by Jackie Deacutis
Plasticulture, or the use of plastic materials in crop production, has become an important tool for farmers around the world. It is used in row crop farming to reduce weed growth and warm the soil for earlier planting and greater yields. The most commonly used solution is plastic mulch, but its use requires additional labor and costs, and is not a particularly sustainable solution for the environment. At the end of the season the plastic strips have to be carted away to a landfill or burned leaving behind toxic residue and smoke. It costs about $100/acre to remove the plastic and produces over 143,000 tons of plastic waste in the United States alone, enough to circle the earth over 100 times.
One solution that has been explored is to use a bio-degradable mulch film. This solution is more sustainable, since it would not need to be removed at the end of the season because it degrades before the next growing season. This reduces costs for the farmer and the environment. However, most existing bio-degradable or oxo-degradable films are 5-6 times more expensive than plastic and are difficult to use because they tear easily. Some of them also leave behind residue that may negatively affect the soil.
ECOgrade™ mulch film from GXT Green, brings new technology which addresses both the cost and sustainability problems, making it a viable replacement for plastic mulch without making the farmer sacrifice price or quality. ECOgrade film is made from an entirely new compound called Calcium Olefinic Glucosate (COG), It costs about the same as plastic, has the same high strength as plastic, is not brittle, and if left on the ground will photodegrade in 240 days, and then biodegrades, leaving behind no toxins in the soil. It can be left to degrade in the soil, or can also be burned safely, emitting low smoke and producing calcium rich ash which has been tested and certified as a safe a soil conditioner adding up to 9% growth.
Furthermore, ECOgrade mulch contains more than 50% natural and plentiful materials and produces nearly 50% less greenhouse gas in pre-production. At the same cost of traditional plastic mulch, without the end of season expenses, ECOgrade mulch is a truly sustainable and cost savings alternative benefitting both the farmer and the environment.
Jackie Deacutis is a student at The College of William and Mary, and an intern at GXT Green.