Innovation That Matters

Festive waste | Photo source on Unsplash

Christmas tree needles reused for paint and food sweeteners


Christmas trees have an unexpected effect on our carbon footprint, but a student may have found a way to diminish their negative impact.

Spotted: Springwise has always admired innovations that seek to help our planet become more environmentally friendly. Reusing waste products is a key part of this, with a huge amount of material going to landfill unnecessarily. We have already spotted various processes, such as ‘rewritable’ paper or using old food waste to help save the Great Barrier Reef. Now a PhD student from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering has found a means to reuse our festive waste.

7 million Christmas trees end up in landfill in the UK every year on average. Not only does this take up huge amounts of physical room and affect the decomposition of other materials there, but Christmas trees do not rot quickly themselves. They have hundreds of thousands of pine needles, which take far longer to decompose than other tree leaves. Even then, they emit huge quantities of greenhouse gases whilst rotting, negatively impacting the carbon footprint of the entire UK. Cynthia Kartey, seeking to solve this problem, has found that useful products, such as paint or food sweeteners, can be made from chemicals extracted from pine needles.

The complex polymer, known as lignocellulose, makes up 85 percent of the trees’ pine needles. This can break down into a liquid, bio-oil, and a solid by-product, bio-char, after applying heat and solvents. The process itself is cheap and environmentally friendly. The bio-oil typically contains glucose, acetic acid and phenol. These are the same ingredients typically found in many industries. For example, they appear in the production of sweeteners for food, paint, adhesives and even vinegar.



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