Six decades after its creation and 25 years since the launch of its 100-per-cent-recycled spiral tree guards, Rainbow Professional is celebrating another year of outstanding achievements as owners Alex and Pierre Talpe push to improve the industry’s approach to tree protection. Forestry Journal caught up with them to learn more.

WOODLAND creation should be one of the most green, environmentally friendly activities a person can undertake – but as we all know, we still have a way to go. 

Traditional polypropylene or polyethylene shelters remain the preferred choice for the protection of young trees against browsing deer and other animals. These shelters are commonly left in woodlands long past their usefulness, polluting the environment. 

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Across the industry, great efforts are underway to change all that. At the forefront of this push for transformation is Rainbow Professional, a company which has been driving innovation in the tree-care sector for 60 years. 

Beginning with the launch of the famous Rainbow Buckle Tree Tie – still the most widely used type of tree tie owing to its simplicity and reliability – the Hull-based firm went on to produce a full range of products including Rainbow Tree Spiral Guards, the plant-based Bio Spiral, Defender tree shelters, Chainlock, EasyFix strapping and the ground stabilisation systems of Rite Pave. It also manufactures the Rite Edge and Rite L Edge aluminium landscape edging systems for soft and hard landscaping. 

In 2019 the company entered a new chapter when it was purchased by Alex and Pierre Talpe, a pair of Belgian brothers sharing a passion for recycled products and sustainable innovation. 

Alex worked for a Belgian landscaping wholesaler business (Callens Montauban), running shops specialising in organic fertilisers, supporting gardeners and foresters on small- and large-scale projects. Meanwhile, Pierre worked as a consultant for McKinsey & Company, helping large companies, typically in agriculture, to solve specific business challenges. 

The brothers were looking for a new challenge when the opportunity emerged to take on Rainbow Professional, then one of Alex’s suppliers. 

Forestry Journal: Rainbow’s new recycling scheme was launched at the start of this year.Rainbow’s new recycling scheme was launched at the start of this year. (Image: Supplied)

He said: “The then-owners were ready to retire and in need of succession. Their company had green credentials that we hold highly ourselves, an ethos of doing everything as organic and green as possible. 

“From working to move agricultural and landscaping customers to organic fertilisers I know people are willing to invest in a better world. The cost is much greater than chemical, but we achieved very positive numbers in Belgium. 

“The challenge for us was to see if we could help Rainbow with the transition.” 
In the brief time the brothers have been running the company, it has achieved a number of significant milestones. 

The first was the launch of the Rainbow Bio II spiral guard, made from 100-per-cent-recycled plant-based materials. This was another big step forward on the Rainbow Bio I in that it doesn’t compete with food sources and drastically cuts down on the carbon footprint.  

In the brief time since the Bio II’s launch, a significant proportion of Rainbow’s customers have made the switch from plastic to plant- and bio-based products. And the company has added several more such products to its range. 

Forestry Journal: Designed to last five years before breaking down, the Terra is Rainbow’s top environmentally friendly solution.Designed to last five years before breaking down, the Terra is Rainbow’s top environmentally friendly solution. (Image: Supplied)

The latest – and most significant yet – is the certified soil-biodegradable Terra. 

A nested round tree shelter which is designed to last an average of five years, the Terra is manufactured from PEFC/FSC wood residue sourced from UK sawmills, and bio resin from Northern Europe. Natural in its appearance, the Terra has class-leading light transmission, reinforced tie holes and a smooth upper lip that reduces stem abrasion. It is also said to work towards an impressively small carbon footprint. 

Launched at last year’s APF show, the Terra has been marketed with the catchy slogan, ‘Wood protects woods’. 

Pierre said: “In developing the Terra we were looking for a material that would help accelerate the biodegradation process. The wood assists with that, by creating little weaknesses in the plant resin. It’s also a great circularity story – sawmills today produce a lot of byproducts that carry little value. Making high-value-added products from this wood makes a lot of sense, especially as we’re looking to increase the share of home-grown timber.  It also makes sense that people know that when they buy our product, they’re supporting their own industry. 

“We weren’t just thinking of what natural materials could be used to build a tree shelter. We were thinking about what the shelter has to do – the material has to be strong, biodegrade quickly, let in enough light, all these different properties.” 

Alex said: “We’re really working around five ‘pillars’. Besides circularity, we look at biodegradability, which is about the end of life of the product. In any environment, the Rainbow Terra might end up in (forest floor/soil, rivers, and oceans), within international standards, it will biodegrade, all this making it an attractive solution for the environmentally-conscious forester.

Forestry Journal: The Rainbow Bio II doing its job on site.The Rainbow Bio II doing its job on site. (Image: Supplied)

“The third aspect is to look at the resources we use. Rainbow has decided to only use 100-per-cent plant-based materials, as these resources are fully renewable and do not cost the earth as much as fossil-based sources.

“A fourth one is carbon. We want to produce a product with the lowest carbon emissions possible.

"We want to work towards reaching close to zero in 2025. That’s a process we are mapping out now. 

“The fifth aspect is of course product performance. The Rainbow Terra and its ingredients were carefully tested for their performance features. Two things that we really valued, for example, were sustained light transmission for healthy plant growth and tensile strength over the years via accelerated weathering test methods, proving it is fit for purpose.”

Rainbow currently employs six people in its R&D department to design and test its products, but it relies on universities and independent certification bodies to validate the internal findings. 

“External validation is very important for us,” said Alex. “We appreciate bio shelters are more expensive than their plastic alternatives, and therefore we needed to make sure that all of our claims were 100-per-cent supported and correct.

“The biggest issue with tree guards is that they leave plastics in the forest, creating waste and some harm to the environment. And the way to solve it is with biodegradability. There’s no way around that. Rainbow worked with the market-leading certification body TUV Austria, which put it through two years of testing before it was passed as soil biodegradable. Recently, it has passed freshwater and marine biodegradability as well. We’re now also working with Grown in Britain to prove this circularity and create transparency on the chain of custody. 

“It took us three years to sort out all the ingredients, make the right choices and to make sure it passed all the required tests. Then, in the last year, we went from samples to full-scale production.

Now, with the help of our long-standing distributors we are focusing on informing people about the product.” 

While Alex and Pierre hope the Terra will, in time, become their top seller, there’s no getting away from the fact that for now, plastic guards are the tried-and-trusted option for most foresters – and there are currently countless numbers littering the countryside, long past the point at which they offered any protection. 

This is an issue which Rainbow aims to tackle through recycling – a practice with which the company is already very familiar. 

It was 25 years ago that the Rainbow Professional launched its first spiral tree guards made of 100-per-cent-recycled material. Today it remains the only company on the market to be able to claim that of its products. 

Forestry Journal: Old tree shelters collected through Rainbow’s new recycling programme, bagged and ready to be sent to Hull for sorting. Old tree shelters collected through Rainbow’s new recycling programme, bagged and ready to be sent to Hull for sorting. (Image: Supplied)

Asked why that was, Alex said: “In short, because we go to a lot of trouble. Our facility is registered as a recycling centre because that’s really what it is. We get in big bales of waste, sort them and try to use everything. The best materials will go to our spirals because they need to be transparent.

"Materials with a bit of colouring can go into tree ties, which are black. For anything else we have other applications.” 

Pierre added: “Being a recycling company is quite different from being a traditional manufacturer.

"It’s not easy to do. Procurement needs to be set up to source from all the right end-use industries.

"Your operatives need to be able to deal with many more irregularities in the production process. They need to be much more skilled. Engineers have to be much more hands-on with breakdowns and really know a machine from A to Z. And you need to understand materials very well.” 

At the start of this year, the company launched the Rainbow Recycling Scheme to recycle any old PVC spiral or PVC vole guard. Aiming to close the loop from supply to collection to recycling to supply, it’s an initiative which is available to any professional end user and aims to be affordable and simple to administer. 

Bags can be ordered direct from Rainbow or one of its wholesalers. Once full, they are collected and transported to Rainbow’s manufacturing facility in Hull where they will be shredded and washed if needed. Depending on the quality, they may be immediately usable to process into new spirals, processed further into pellets, or used as in-fill for pipes and window frames.

Rainbow has a local network of recycling partners that can find the best possible outlet for each waste material. 

“If you can use a product which is already 100-per-cent recycled and close the loop, then you’re working in a really green way,” said Alex. “I think if you are a sensible person who recycles at home, why can’t you do the same outdoors? There are risks that will always be there. You won’t always recover everything, so there will always be pollution. But you can minimise it to a very sensible number. 

Forestry Journal: Belgian brothers Alex and Pierre Talpe took ownership of Rainbow Professional in 2019 and have been very busy in the following years. The company still operates from its 8,000 m2 facility in Hull. Belgian brothers Alex and Pierre Talpe took ownership of Rainbow Professional in 2019 and have been very busy in the following years. The company still operates from its 8,000 m2 facility in Hull. (Image: Supplied)

“However, if you need to recover it, when considering the cost of planting 2,000 trees, you also need to factor the cost of removing those 2,000 tree shelters. 

“That’s an additional cost which you wouldn’t have if you used the Rainbow Terra. 

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“Then it becomes more of a finance decision for customers. They need to ask themselves, ‘do I spread out my costs or not? Can I remove them or not?’ If you can’t remove them, then of course you need to use a soil-biodegradable version. But if you do things responsibly and look at everything holistically, the cost is very similar for either option. That’s why I think there’s room for both.”  

Rainbow Professional’s own slogan has long been ‘shaping your environment’ and, as brothers Alex and Pierre write the company’s next chapter, their commitment to the environment is clear.

Having already prevented an estimated 50,000,000 kg of carbon from entering the atmosphere by not using virgin materials, there can be little doubt about the contribution it has made. 

However, with the launch of its latest products, a commitment to certified sustainability and clear ambitions for the future, its greatest achievements may well be ahead.