Roughly 30 million real Christmas trees are sold every year in the US. What if these trees could be saved from landfill and used as food sweeteners?
Simply collecting Christmas trees after the holiday and recycling the pine needles could replace less sustainable chemicals used in the food and manufacturing industry.
Pine needle reuse might help to reduce the carbon footprint in the US.
Scientists believe that using materials derived from plants and trees and recycling food waste to create chemicals and fuels will play an important role in the future global economy.
Until pine-derived sweeteners will be available in grocery stores, there are plenty of alternatives to refined sugar.
Researchers from the University of Sheffield found that pine needles have the potential to be recycled and transformed into sweeteners and other compounds while reducing the United States’ carbon footprint.
Christmas trees could be used after the holidays
Christmas trees have hundreds of thousands of pine needles. Compared with other tree leaves, pine needles take longer to decompose and when they do, they emit significant quantities of greenhouse gasses, thus having an impact on the carbon footprint.
Instead of being abandoned in a landfill, Christmas trees could be used to create products made from the chemicals extracted from pine needles, according to researchers from the University of Sheffield.
A polymer called lignocellulose makes up about 85% of pine needles. This compound can be broken down into sugars and other substances and used as sweeteners, vinegar, paint, and adhesives. Best of all, the process of converting pine needles into these products is cost-effective, environmentally friendly, and creates zero waste.
Reducing carbon footprint
The United States has the highest carbon footprint in terms of per capita consumption, accounting for roughly 14% of the world’s total energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emission, based on 2018 data. The average American contributes 16 tons to environmental degradation compared with the global average of 4 tons.
Recycling pine needles into sweeteners would lead to a decrease in the US's carbon footprint.
Both older, abandoned Christmas trees and fresh trees can be used to obtain sweeteners. Another potential use of pine needles is to make paint. Recycling Christmas trees in particular would be beneficial to decrease the carbon footprint by reducing the waste going to landfill and also decreasing the need for artificial Christmas trees made from plastic.
More uses of pine needles
Pine needles have continued to increase in popularity in the food and supplement industries in the last few decades, as researchers started to explore their health effects.
Pine needles are a rich source of antioxidants, including flavonoids and phenolic compounds, as well as vitamins C and A.
Natural food preservative
Pine needle extracts are added to foods as natural preservatives to maintain freshness. Using natural preservatives is a great alternative to the synthetic preservatives that are currently used, which have been associated with serious side effects.
In addition to preserving food freshness, pine needle extract could also add nutritional value. Pine needles, cones, bark, and oil are used as food or food ingredients in some European and Asian countries.
Pine needle tea
Pine bark has a long history of use as a folk medicine among the indigenous people of North America. The pine bark was traditionally used to treat wounds and scurvy, while pine needle tea was mostly used as a decongestant and cough medicine. Nowadays, pine needle tea is generally recommended for sore throats and as a home remedy for colds and flu. It is important to buy pine needles from a reputable company, as some varieties of pine trees are toxic.
Pycnogenol®, a standardized bark extract from Pinus Maritima shows remarkable anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antimicrobial effects. Although more research is needed, this particular extract may help support heart health, aid in wound healing, decrease inflammation, improve memory and cognition, and boost athletic performance. A few small studies found that Pycnogenol pine bark extract may ease symptoms of asthma and arthritis.
Recent studies even looked at the possible use of these supplements to manage COVID-19 infections, although larger, well-designed studies are needed to confirm its benefits. Other extracts derived from pine are recommended for liver conditions induced by alcohol, to boost memory, manage cholesterol levels, and reduce inflammation.
Disinfectants and air fresheners
Pine oil and extracts, which are extracted from pine needles, are used widely in cleaning products, disinfectants, and air fresheners. Pine oils are rich in many antioxidant compounds. Essential oils from pine are well known for creating an uplifting and invigorating atmosphere in aromatherapy. Essential oils should be used in diffusers or diluted when used in cleaning products. Avoid direct contact to prevent skin irritation.
The research on using pine needles as a sweetener is in its early stages. Scientists believe that pine needles have great potential to be used in the food industry. However, it takes many years, sometimes decades, of research until a product becomes available on the market.
When used as a supplement, whether you choose pine needle tea, bark, or extracts, it is important to consult a healthcare professional to learn more about safety, optimal dosage, and possible interaction with other supplements or medication. Choose pine needle tea from a reputable company, as some species of pine trees are toxic.