Bioplastic tree shelters to solve planting waste problem

Tree-planting is rising fast up both the political and corporate agendas, for reasons of carbon sequestration and offset, flood alleviation, soil retention, urban greening, CSR, and more. One of the unfortunate and unintended consequences of this race to reforest, however, is the potential for polluting plastic to enter the natural environment in the form of planting waste. One solution being explored is a range of innovative new bioplastic tree shelters.

As part of UK efforts to address the problem, Southampton-based pioneer Biome Bioplastics has secured approximately £59k of funding from the Government-backed Innovate UK agency to develop and test a new generation of biodegradable tree shelters made from bioplastics.

Tree shelters are used to protect young trees and bushes from predation by animals and are well-proven to limit losses in the first 5-7 years of a tree’s life. However, the majority are never collected at their operational end-of-life.

As they are traditionally made from oil-based, non-biodegradable plastics, they end up littering landscapes with both large and small pieces of plastic. Plans to significantly increase tree planting as part of the UK’s push to net zero emissions are expected to exacerbate this problem further.

This project is being undertaken in conjunction with Suregreen, a leading manufacturer of tree shelters and draws on advice from Dr Robert Elias of the BioComposites Centre at Bangor University. The project has received funding from Innovate UK’s Sustainable Innovation Fund, that seeks to demonstrate the impact and potential of a clean growth-led recovery from COVID-19 and transition to net zero greenhouse gas emissions.

Biome Bioplastics and Suregreen will develop and manufacture prototypes of a novel bio-based, biodegradable tree shelter as part of the Innovate UK feasibility project. These shelters will be designed to protect growing trees, not hinder growth as trees reach maturity and biodegrade if not collected at end-of-life. The prototypes will initially be subjected to laboratory testing in accelerated ageing conditions before extensive field testing.

Biome’s technical lead on this project is Gaelle Cavalie, a young female scientist who was recently recognised in Packaging Innovations’ 30 under 30 list. The competition celebrates young packaging industry professionals with the greatest potential to become the next generation of industry leaders.

Speaking about the feasibility work on tree-shelter prototypes, Paul Mines, Biome Bioplastics’ CEO, commented:

This project is an exciting step towards supporting tree planting in a sustainable manner. Approximately 15 million tree shelters are already used in the UK each year and we are delighted to help Suregreen reinvent a product for this sector.”

Endorsing the advantages of collaboration, John Warner, Suregreen’s Managing Director, added:

“We’re really excited to be working with an industry-leading company such as Biome Bioplastics to explore practical ways of utilising the latest bioplastic materials for the benefit of the environment, the climate and the world. We know what essential features and attributes a tree shelter should have through development of our existing Vigilis range and look forward to applying that knowledge to this new type of shelter, which will facilitate the huge tree-planting programmes our future demands.”

On behalf of funding agency Innovate UK, Executive Chair Dr Ian Campbell concluded:

“In these difficult times we have seen the best of British business innovation. The pandemic is not just a health emergency but one that impacts society and the economy. Biome Bioplastics’ biodegradable tree shelter project, along with every initiative Innovate UK has supported through this fund, is an important step forward in driving sustainable economic development.”

Biome Bioplastics and Suregreen

Biome Bioplastics is a leading UK developer of intelligent, natural plastics. Serving a global customer base, the company’s mission is to produce bioplastics to challenge the dominance of oil-based polymers and ultimately replace them.

Building on 20 years of development activity, Biome Bioplastics produces a range of high-performance, plant-based bioplastics that are industrially and home compostable. Its biopolymers are suitable for both short-life and disposable products, as well as long-life, durable applications.

Suregreen offers a wide range of landscape and gardening products for both trade and DIY applications. They are the UK specialists in ground-reinforcement solutions, wire products, fencing supplies, timber posts, timber sleepers, tree shelters and garden supplies.

The Vigilis range tree shelters and guards provide reliable protection and accelerate the growth of trees. Sales are backed by a breadth of technical service that rests on decades of industry experience.


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