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Plastics are widely used in agriculture, but they create challenges for the environment. About 80% of the plastic waste is generated by plastic mulch films. Their waste collection is difficult and significant parts stay in the fields, generating microplastics that end up in rivers and oceans. A Spanish Operational Group (OG) encourages farmers in their region to use biodegradable mulch films and provides solutions for accelerating the degradation progress.
Operational Group AColchados BioDegradables (GO-ACBD) is coordinated by Abelardo Hernandez from the Association of Fruit and Vegetable Producers-Exporters (Proexport) based in the region of Murcia. He explains why they decided to set up this OG. Abelardo: “Some years ago, several growers came to us looking for a solution to deal with plastic debris in their fields. The growers told us that every time a crop had been harvested and the soil was ploughed, many small pieces of the mulch film could be found mixed in with the soil. GO-ACBD was launched to find a solution for this problem.”
The consortium includes five well-known agricultural companies and together they work with two research centres specialised in biodegradable mulch. The OG partners assessed the problem and it became clear that the solution had to be addressed in two ways. First, by reducing the amount of non-biodegradable debris. This could be done by encouraging farmers not to use polyethylene films under 15 micrometre thickness, which are extremely difficult to remove from the soil. Using more expensive biodegradable mulch films instead has environmental and economic benefits because they do not have to be removed from the soil at the end of the crop cycle. They can be ploughed into the ground where they will break down and leave no debris. The second part of the solution, is reducing the time that biodegradable mulch film remains in the soil. According to standard EN-17033, mulch is called biodegradable when it has a biodegradation threshold of 90% in 2 years. For many farmers this is too long as one crop lasts only 3-6 months in the field. Therefore, the OG has been trying to speed up the degradation process and synchronise it with the crop life-cycle. Even biodegradable mulch-films need right conditions and time to disappear completely.
Abelardo: “So far, we have discovered that in order to increase the speed and level of the degradation of biodegradable-mulch film, it must be ploughed into the soil at about 25cm. At this depth there is enough humidity and organic material to ensure microbial activity. After having ploughed the film into the soil, we need to introduce a second crop to get a sufficient level of degradation. This second crop provides extra humidity and organic material, which boosts the microorganisms involved in the degradation process.”
The project is about to finish at the end of 2020, but there are still remaining questions. Therefore, the project partners, with the addition of some new partners, are preparing another project proposal. Abelardo: “In the second project we aim to speed up the degradation using the soil native microorganisms without the need for a second crop.”
Contact person: Mr. Abelardo Hernandez - email@example.com
Operational Group project webpage in the EIP-AGRI database
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