Developing Alternatives to Plastic Mulch

EPA Grant Number: SU835348
Title: Developing Alternatives to Plastic Mulch
Investigators: Santelmann, Mary , Cluver, Brigitte , Clark, Caitlin , DeGeorge, Dustin , Chen, Hsiou-Lien , Cassidy, James , DiFrancesco, Kara , Ponce, Randi , Selko, Tucker
Institution: Oregon State University
EPA Project Officer: Hahn, Intaek
Phase: II
Project Period: August 15, 2012 through August 14, 2014
Project Amount: $90,000
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet - Phase 2 (2012) Recipients Lists
Research Category: Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Challenge Area - Agriculture , P3 Awards , Sustainability


Every year farmers around the globe lay plastic mulch over 30 million acres of fields, an area larger than the state of Pennsylvania. While mulch provides farmers invaluable services that increase crop productivity and reduce labor costs, plastic sheeting used as mulch poses significant sustainability concerns due to practices involved in its production as well as lack of options for disposal. Due to limited disposal and recycling options, mulch tends to accumulate indefinitely in landfills, or in some cases, it is burned releasing toxins into the air. An additional concern results from the significant amounts of non-renewable materials, water, and energy consumed in the production of plastic mulch. In Phase II of this project we will address these issues, building upon our previous work to develop a more sustainable alternative to plastic mulch that retains the properties desired by farmers.


Our specific objectives are to (1) develop and test a sustainable mulch prototype made from flax; (2) gather data on the performances of alternative mulches; and (3) perform an analysis of the cost of different mulches throughout their lifecycles.


To achieve our first goal, we will partner with the company Naturally Advanced Technologies Inc. to produce a mulch prototype derived from flax shive, an agricultural waste produce. We will then test the prototype alongside other mulches to assess how well they perform in water retention, soil heat insulation, pest control, soil health and crop performance throughout a growing season. We will also perform a life cycle analysis on the mulches tested in the field trial to see how they relate in terms of water use and carbon emissions throughout their lifetime.

Expected Results:

This work will produce a new economical and biodegradable mulch alternative as well as generate a reliable set of data on the relative merits of different mulch alternatives tested together in the field which will be disseminated to farmers and other users of mulch products.

Supplemental Keywords:

moisture retention, weed suppression, waste reduction

Relevant Websites:

Phase 1 abstract

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2013
  • Final

  • P3 Phase I:

    Developing Sustainable Alternatives to Plastic Mulch  | Final Report