Our commitment to research and development
When Gary, our founder and MD, began to develop a new tree shelter, he set three criteria the shelters would have to meet:
- Their performance would be as good as, or better than, plastic tree shelters
- They would be environmentally friendly
- They would be cost-effective
Gary spent four years working closely with foresters, landowners and industry experts, researching the best materials for our tree shelters and developing their design. The result of this painstaking research is a tree shelter that:
- is fully biodegradable, pH and ecotoxicity neutral
- breaks down into CO2, H2O and nitrogen
- has a high renewable material content, some of which is considered waste
- creates a nourishing micro-environment
- lets in the right level and spectrum of light to promote healthy plants and strong growth
- protects young plants from grazing animals and harmful herbicide and pesticide sprays
- is proven to last five years (depending on location, tree canopy, soil and microbes)
- needs no collection, cleaning or recycling
- supports mosses and lichens that attach themselves to the shelters to help create and sustain rich biodiversity
- changes colour over time to blend into the natural environment, with no loss of performance
We will continue to research and develop new materials and new uses for our material technology to help reduce the use of plastic and support the global fight against climate change.
Independently tested and verified
Impact Solutions independently tested NexGen shelters (you can read their case study here) in their accelerated weathering, analytical and biodegradation laboratories.
Their tests confirmed that in natural, ambient conditions NexGen shelters:
- Begin to biodegrade when sited, and start to break down after five years (location dependent)
- Are pH and ecotoxicity neutral
- Biodegrade into food for micro-organisms
The shelters are also being tested at trial sites across the UK, including sites in Northern Scotland and the Isle of Skye that are fully exposed to the challenges of Scottish weather.
Life cycle assessment
A life cycle assessment (LCA) uses a standard framework to evaluate the environmental impact of a product, process or material over its entire life. This includes raw material extraction, materials processing, supply, manufacture, waste management, distribution, use and end-of-life phases. LCAs are used to:
- analyse how each life cycle stage contributes to the overall environmental load
- compare products
University College London (UCL) is currently carrying out an LCA on our tree shelters. This will inform our research and development, help us continue to improve and evidence the environmental impact of our tree shelters.
Currently, the ISO only certify biodegradability after less than a year. As a result, we are working with Impact Solutions and the Sustainable Certification Group to develop a test protocol and certification scheme that recognises the longevity and biodegradability of our tree shelters.
Why we use the materials we do
Our extensive research and development identified wool, CNSL and castor oil (along with an innovative biodegradable custom polymer)) as the most environmentally friendly, sustainable and effective materials for our tree shelters.
Gary explored several materials when he was developing the NexGen shelter. He chose wool because it is:
- 100% natural
- Sustainable, renewable and biodegradable
- Durable, flexible, flame and water-resistant
- Readily available in the UK
- Provides the catalyst for the degradation process
We use lighter coloured wool in our tree shelters, shrub shelters and spiral guards but can use darker wool in our vole guards. Because we use wool of a lower grade than that used by clothing manufacturers, we’re providing 1,200 British sheep farmers with a new market for fleeces that they typically bury, burn or dump. From September 2022 we’ll be using 78,000 square metres of British wool every month.
Why cashew nutshell liquid?
Cashew nutshell liquid (CNSL) is a natural, annually renewable, non-food biomaterial. It’s an agricultural by-product of the cashew nut industry defined as waste or processing residue. Due to its distinct properties, versatility and availability, CNSL is increasingly used in polymer-based industries to replace fossil-based raw materials.
For example, CNSL provides a more environmentally friendly option in industrial and marine coatings, brake linings, paints, varnishes, laminates and resins. It is replacing palm oil in B7 road diesel. And research is finding potential new uses for CNSL in medicine. This increase in use is giving cashew nut producers more markets and the opportunity to use the whole nut. However, only 20% of waste cashew nut shells are currently turned into alternative products.
All the CNSL we use is from shells where the nuts have been mechanically extracted. We use cardanol, the clearest, most refined (and most expensive) CNSL to make sure our shelters and guards let in the right amount of light.
We buy our CNSL from Cardolite, an American company with a manufacturing site in India. Cardolite develops and manufactures the world’s largest range of CNSL-derived products.
Cardolite is EcoVardis accredited, which reflects the high quality of its sustainability management system. It is also certified by the International Sustainability and Carbon Certificate (ISCC), as are its key suppliers. Gary, and NexGen’s technical sales manager, Tim Oliver, have visited and inspected both the Cardolite plant and some of their suppliers to ensure the CNSL we use comes from ethical sources.
“We want to be a partner for those who are looking to replace fossil-based raw materials with renewables and lower their impact on the environment.”
Tom Claessen, Vice President of Sales at Cardolite
Because we use CNSL as one of the ingredients in our polyol, we can be sure our tree shelters are:
- 100% biodegradable
- pH and ecotoxicity neutral
- Durable enough to withstand the extremes of British weather
Why castor oil?
The other main ingredient we use in our polyol is castor oil, which we also buy from Cardolite. Castor oil is a vegetable oil made from pressed castor beans, which come from the Ricinus or castor oil plant that grows widely across tropical and sub-tropical regions.
Castor oil is a natural, renewable and non-food biodegradable material used as an alternative to petrochemicals in a wide range of applications and markets.
Castor beans can thrive in areas where food crops can’t grow, and therefore castor oil does not compete with food crops.
We will never ‘greenwash’
We make every effort to ensure that we only buy from ethical producers.
That said, and in the interests of full transparency, we recognise that both CNSL and castor oil production have historically had poor reputations in some parts of the world. However, the situation is improving, in part as more global industries seek ethically sourced alternatives to petrochemicals and the market for each product grows.
We will continue to take every step available to make sure our suppliers have ethical practices in place and our products meet the high ethical standards both we and our customers demand.
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