Pine needles from abandoned Christmas trees turned into paint

Christmas trees abandoned after the festivities could be saved from landfill and turned into paint and food sweeteners. The trees have hundreds of thousands of needles, which emit huge quantities of greenhouse gases when they rot.

Pine needles from abandoned Christmas trees could be turned into paint and food sweeteners in a move that would reduce the greenhouse gases produced when the trees rot, according to new research by the University of Sheffield.

The UK uses as many as eight million natural Christmas trees during the festive period every year, with about seven million trees ending up in landfill. They take a long time to decompose and, when they rot, they contribute to the country’s carbon footprint.

However, as university PhD student Cynthia Kartey found, useful products can be made from the needles, which are up to 85 per cent composed of a complex polymer known as lignocellulose.

Kartey commented: “My research has been focused on the breakdown of this complex structure into simple, high-valued industrial chemical feedstocks such as sugars and phenolics, which are used in products like household cleaners and mouthwash.

“Biorefineries would be able to use a relatively simple but unexplored process to break down the pine needles.”

With the aid of heat and solvents such as glycerol, the chemical structure of pine needles can be broken down into a liquid product (bio-oil) and a solid by-product (bio-char) in a sustainable and zero-waste process, according to a statement.

The bio-oil typically contains glucose, acetic acid and phenol. Glucose can be used in the production of sweeteners for food, and acetic acid for making paint, adhesives and even vinegar.

If pine needles were collected after Christmas and processed in this way, the chemicals could be used to replace less sustainable chemicals currently used in industry. This could lead to a decrease in the UK’s carbon footprint by reducing the UK’s dependence on imported artificial plastic-based Christmas trees and a reduction in the amount of biomass waste going to landfill.

Photo credit: Rexness/ CC BY-SA 2.0

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