Voices of Forestry presents analysis and insight from people working all across the forestry sector. This issue, Dean Latten, site director at Tubex, argues biodegradable tree shelters are not a silver-bullet solution to the plastics ‘problem’.

IT has been difficult to ignore the growing debate on the use of plastic in tree planting as of late. 

As both consumers and organisations re-evaluate their relationship with the material, so too are foresters and conservation groups. This has led to a surge of new biodegradable tree-shelter options as manufacturers respond to increasing pressure to move away from plastic. 

It is tempting to lay all sustainability concerns at the feet of ‘biodegradability’ – as a form of ultimate solution to the tree-shelter ‘end-of-life’ question. But doing this ignores the true complexity of the issue and could ultimately lead to fewer trees being planted and massive raw material inefficiencies.

Biodegradable tree shelters have a critically important role in sustainable tree protection, but should not be considered the default solution, as they too are single-use products.

Cost, scalability, and circularity in material usage are also vital sustainability considerations and biodegradable shelters alone do not necessarily sufficiently satisfy these criteria. 

In this debate it is essential to remember that we are all working towards the same goal: to help plant and protect as many trees as possible. 

The concerns surrounding plastic are legitimate, but the best solution is unavoidably more nuanced than how it is presented – and we will be doing a disservice to said ultimate goal if we don’t acknowledge this.


It is helpful at this point to remind ourselves why we use tree shelters. 

Part of making sure that we effectively meet ambitious planting targets set by governments around the world is ensuring that as many saplings as possible survive to maturity. 

Tree shelters do this by protecting trees from browsing by animals such as voles, rabbits and deer. They also help to promote the growth and establishment of saplings by providing a beneficial microclimate and insulating young trees from extremes in climatic conditions such as temperature.

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In simple terms: they work, and have been proven to do so over multiple decades – and that’s why their use is so widespread, from national timber resource management to landscaping to rewilding and conservation efforts.


Achieving true sustainability will never be a simple endeavour and often involves balancing a series of drawbacks and benefits that each solution or product brings to the table.

One consideration that doesn’t often feature in this debate is circularity in material usage. 


In light of the grim warnings from climate change scientists and the immense amount of reforestation needed in the UK alone (never mind the rest of the world), the colossal amount of material required to meet this need becomes dauntingly clear.

We are going to need a lot of tree shelters over the coming decades, and it’s essential for us to keep this in mind. 

Plastic tree shelters therefore should not be considered single-use, disposable products and represent a recyclable, scalable and cost-effective solution to the tree protection sustainability challenge. 

This is why Tubex introduced its collection and recycling programme and why many of our tree shelters use up to 50-per-cent recycled material, because we put great importance on material efficiency and ensuring that we can meet the immense demand for shelters that reforestation targets require.


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We would always advocate for the collection and recycling of tree shelters at their end of life as the lowest-impact solution according to current third-party research, but this isn’t always feasible or practical.

These restricted or impractical locations are where biodegradable tree shelters, such as our very own Tubex Nature, are a suitable and effective alternative. The shelters will eventually break down after performing their most essential duty: helping the sapling survive to maturity.


No doubt, the sight of discarded tree shelters and the increased public attention on plastic has been a significant factor driving the search for alternative materials – and this is completely understandable. 

But focusing solely on biodegradability is simply not compatible with the key tenets of environmental responsibility: reduce, reuse, recycle. 

This means that we need to move away from being tempted into a ‘set it and forget it’ mindset with tree shelters and instead make responsible end-of-life measures completely central to the planning of any planting scheme. 

At the end of the day, the most sustainable thing we can do is ensure that as many saplings as possible can be planted and will survive to maturity. To do so in a sustainable and circular way is even better.