Your Christmas tree could help save the planet

Bauble in a Christmas tree (Image: Kelly Mercer/Flickr)Image copyright
Kelly Mercer

Image caption

An estimated seven million trees end up in landfill in the UK each Christmas

Your unwanted Christmas tree could be processed to produce important chemicals and cut emissions, say researchers.

Pine needles could provide feedstock to create new products, such as sweeteners and paint, as well as cut emissions.

Currently, an estimated seven million trees each year end up in landfill.

A study from the University of Sheffield suggests the process would also result in zero waste, therefore easing pressure on our waste services.

Growth of recycled trees

“By now we all know about the problem of greenhouse gas emissions, and the need to reduce carbon emissions,” explained Cynthia Kartey, a PhD student at the university’s Department of Chemical and Biological Engineer

“I see biomass waste as a potential alternative source of feedstock for the chemical industry, for example,” she told BBC News.

For example, some of the substances found in pine needles are an active ingredient in perfume.

Image copyright
Kelly Mercer

Image caption

Recycling your tree means that it can carry on giving, even after Christmas

Despite recent attention on the problems caused by the global proliferation of plastic, the popularity of artificial Christmas trees continue to grow.

However, an estimated eight million “natural” Christmas trees are still bought in the UK each year.

Alas, the vast majority – about seven million of them – end up in landfill after 12th Night.

Seasonal and circular economy

However, by identifying the value from the trees in the form of the potential feedstock for the chemical industry would make it economically sensible to send them to biorefineries, says Miss Kartey.

This could also lead to a reduction in the UK’s carbon footprint as it would cut our dependency on imported plastic trees and a reduction in the amount of tree biomass ending up in landfill, she explained.

Colleague Dr James McGregor added: “The use of biomass – material derived from plants – to produce fuel and chemicals currently manufactured from fossil resources will play a key role in the future global economy.

“If we can utilise materials that would otherwise go to waste in such process, thereby recycling them, then there are further benefits.”