Christmas Tree Recycling
Christmas Tree Recycling : Christmas is over, we have welcomed in another new year, but what now becomes of the 8 million real Christmas trees we bought in 2018? As we head towards Twelfth Night, many of us have already cleared the clutter and are now considering the best disposal methods for their once-loved Norway Spruces.

Christmas Tree Recycling – Depending on where you live, councils can provide different advice on how to dispose of your tree, with some offering drop-off recycling points, as well as the opportunity for it to be collected alongside green bins that are also used for food waste. The first port of call should be your local authority website, where advice and collection/drop off details will be readily available and it’s worth checking with some garden centres who have started to offer chipping services for composting trees.

Sadly, it is estimated that our old trees emit an estimated 100,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases when they go to landfill – however, it is now possible to turn pine needles into very useful industrial materials.

We tend to think we are being ‘greener’ when choosing a real tree, however, real trees aren’t necessarily the better option. Christmas trees such as the Norway spruce and Nordmann fir have hundreds of thousands of pine needles which take a long time to decompose compared to other tree leaves. When they break down, they emit huge quantities of greenhouse gases.

According to the Carbon Trust, the carbon footprint of a 2m-tall real Christmas tree is equivalent to 16kg of CO2 if it ends up in landfill. That’s 100,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases from the 7 million trees that end up languishing in landfills every year.

Cynthia Kartey is a PhD researcher in chemical engineering at the University of Sheffield explains some research she has embarked on:

“A better solution would be to reuse the pine needles and the trees. My research at the University of Sheffield has been investigating whether there are useful products that we can get from pine needles.

Like most plant biomass, 85 per cent of a pine needle is a structurally complex polymer known as lignocellulose, which is rich in carbohydrate and aromatic compounds. The structural rigidity of lignocellulose makes it unattractive and useless in most industrial processes because of the high energy intensity needed to break it down. 

My research is focused on how the complex structure of this polymer can be broken down into simple industrial chemical feedstocks of high value and low molecular weight, such as sugars, organic acids and phenolics – chemicals that are important raw materials in industrial manufacturing.”

The benefits of this research could be huge. It can help reduce carbon emissions by decreasing dependence on imported artificial Christmas trees and limiting the amount of biomass sent to landfill.

If commercially feasible, this could make industrial processes more sustainable by creating new products from something previously considered waste. Long after the festive period is over, we could continue using this method to recycle forest and agricultural waste on a much larger scale, bringing greater benefits throughout the year.   




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