If you read my latest blog you will have heard about my current fixation with discarded tree guards. After finding over 30 plastic tree guards piled up next to the car park at Blawhorn Moss NNR I started looking into ways of recycling or reusing them. But firstly I wanted to know more about how they came to be there and what impact they might be having on our environment.
Usually, after 10 years or so tree guards are removed from plantations by the planter or land manager. However, sometimes land owners are not willing to pay for the removal of tree guards, or they are forgotten about for some other reason, meaning plastic is left behind to pollute the environment and clutter the landscape. We don’t know why tree guards have been left on the plantation at Blawhorn Moss NNR but they have been there for 20 years.
Most tree guards are made of polypropylene plastic which is susceptible to UV degradation, so in theory they should breakdown from sun exposure over time. However, foresters note that many tree guards left for over 20 years are still intact. Also this raises the issue of biodegradable versus compostable. Where compostable products are made up of non-toxic components that will break down completely over a short period time without harming plant growth, biodegradable ones simply break down into smaller and smaller pieces of plastic, a process that can take decades! Until recently I didn’t know there was even a difference so this is something to watch out for!
When these microplastics enter the soil they can be taken up by wildlife and become part of the food chain. Small animals, such as invertebrates take up plastics which are then eaten by bigger animals which are eaten by even bigger animals so the problem manifests at the top of the food chain and even affects the food we eat. We are now aware of this happening in marine environments, and too used to seeing images of whales washed up on beaches filled with plastic, but it is occurring on land too.
Besides being harmful to plants and animals in the ecosystem, discarded plastic is also an eyesore and it’s upsetting to see our natural environment treated like a landfill site. Surely we can come up with non-damaging sustainable solutions to tree planting?
Given government plans to plant 30 million trees by 2025 to meet carbon neutral targets, this could mean the manufacturing of millions more plastic tree guards with a percentage of them likely to be left to enter our environment. Although plastic is sometimes the only current viable option, with its use deeply embedded in all industries, it is essential that we strive to come up with innovative ways to ensure that natural solutions to climate change are as effective and carbon neutral as possible. Those working in the industry have the responsibility to challenge the norm, which means re-thinking the use of single use plastics in tree planting.
Stay tuned for my next blog in this series which will discuss possible solutions to the problem!
And please share your thoughts with us on this topic by commenting below.