Basic Information Resources: Biodegradable Mulch

Disparity between the Terms “Biodegradability” and “Biobased” Pertaining to Biodegradable Mulch Films

“Biobased” and “biodegradable” are essential and helpful terms when it comes to understanding biodegradable mulch films, yet these terms are often poorly misunderstood, hence miscommunicated. This fact sheet differentiates these terms and others related to biodegradable plastic.


pepper plants on biodegradable plastic mulch

Paper Mulch for Nutsdedge Control in Vegetable Production

Mulches provide crop production benefits, including weed control. However, nutsedge can be a very destructive weed that will break through both polyethylene and biodegradable plastic mulch. Paper mulch prevents nutsedge emergence, providing growers with a mulch that can be used when nutsedge control is needed


pepper plants on paper mulch

​The Economic Feasibility of Adopting Plastic Biodegradable Mulches in Pumpkin Production

This factsheet provides a budget analysis of the net change in profit from use of biodegradable plastic mulch in the production of pumpkins, with focus on the balance between cost savings in labor and disposal and cost increase from biodegradable mulch use.


budget analysis

Micro- and Nanoplastics in Soil: Should We Be Concerned?

This factsheet addresses accumulation of micro- and nanoplastics in terrestrial environments, including agricultural soil, which has received little attention compared to plastics in marine environments. Plastics are used routinely in agriculture, and biodegradable plastic mulches may reduce future additions of micro- and nanoplastics to agricultural soil.


plastic accumulation on farm

On-Farm Biodegradable Mulch Case Study: Boxx Berry Farm

This case study report documents the experience of a western Washington farm when growers tried out biodegradable plastic mulch alongside polyethylene mulch and paper mulch in their cut flower production.


Flowers grown on biodegradable plastic mulch

The Role of Standards for Use of Biodegradable Plastic Mulches: Truth and Myths

Understanding standards is key to understanding how biodegradable plastic mulches are regulated and expected to perform. However, the multitude of different standards for these products have produced some misunderstandings. After explaining what standards are and how society uses them, we clarify the content of various standards related to biodegradable plastic mulches and summarize their objectives and limitations.


ASTM D5338 test apparatus (partial)

On-Farm Biodegradable Mulch Case Study: Cloudview Farm – Washington State

Following a trial of four types of mulches, the farm operators of Cloudview Farm concluded that biodegradable plastic mulches were a useful alternative to polyethylene (conventional plastic) mulch, but they had concerns about aesthetics and soil health over time.


watermelon plants on bdm

On-Farm Biodegradable Mulch Case Study: Omache Farm – Washington State

This is the inaugural report of a series of case studies of farms that have field-tested biodegradable mulches. The Omache Farm operators preferred polyethylene (convential plastic) mulch over paper, and biodegradable plastic mulch over polyethylene plastic mulch. Reasons included weed control, labor, and plant growth.



​Soil Sampling Method to Assess the Amount of Mulch Fragments in the Field after Tillage

A method to estimate the amount of visible mulch fragments in the soil is presented. This method does not measure the rate or extent of biodegradation, but it does assess the initial stage of mulch degradation after soil incorporation.


Tilled in biodegradable plastic mulch

Impact of Biodegradable Plastic Mulch on Specialty Crop Production

Research on the efficacy of biodegradable plastic mulches (BDMs) has focused on its effects in vegetable and fruit crop production systems. This summary of research results provides a quick reference to the scientific literature on the use of BDM for vegetable and fruit crops. For some crops, several studies have been carried out in production systems around the world, and findings may vary.  


BDM research growers researchers

​​Important Considerations for the Use of Biodegradable Mulch in Crop Production

This Washington State University factsheet reviews factors to consider when considering use of biodegradable plastic mulch, such as the amount needed, installation procedures, and labor savings at end-of-season relative to use of conventional polyethylene mulch.  


agricultural plastic film removal

A Summary and Assessment of EN-17033:2018, A New Standard for Biodegradable Plastic Mulch Films

A European Union standard for biodegradable plastic mulch was enacted in January 2018. The standard imposes biodegradation requirements for biodegradable plastic mulch or its constituents and establishes the standardized laboratory testing processes to determine if the product meets the requirements. Issues that remain, but which can be addressed by additional research, are identified.


biodegradable plastic mulch planted

Mulch Calculator

An interactive “mulch calculator” assists farmers in determining the quantity of mulch needed and provides cost comparison to polyethylene plastic mulch.


Mulch rolls in field

The Economics of Adopting Biodegradable Plastic Mulch Films

The questions farmers should ask and have answered when considering adoption of biodegradable plastic mulch are the focus of this University of Tennessee fact sheet. Product cost, disposal cost, end-of-season labor implications, and other economic factors are addressed.


removal of polyethylene mulch

​​Biodegradable Plastic Mulch and Suitability for Sustainable and Organic Agriculture

Biodegradable plastic mulch (BDM) offers crop production benefits similar to polyethylene (PE) mulch but is designed to be tilled into the soil after use, thereby eliminating waste and disposal challenges associated with PE mulch use. This Washington State University fact sheet explains the use of plastic mulch in agriculture, what plastic BDMs are made from, and what constitutes biodegradability. It also provides information about the suitability of plastic BDM for organic agriculture.


Pumpkins on bdm thumbnail

Oxo-degradable Plastics Risk Environmental Pollution

Oxo-degradable plastic mulch is a re-emerging alternative to biodegradable plastic mulch and conventional plastic mulch. However, oxo-degradable plastic is not biodegradable in field conditions; fragments will remain in the soil or surrounding environment for decades, where they become micro or nano particles that are pollutants in soil and water systems. There is a call to ban oxo-degradable plastic packaging in the U.S. and EU because it poses risk to our environment.


fragments of oxo-degradable plastic 3 years after use

​Soil Fumigation and Biodegradable Plastic Mulch

Biodegradable mulches are not EPA-approved tarps for soil fumigation. This fact sheet explains the limitations of biodegradable mulch use in soil fumigation systems.


tarp for fumigation

Use of Plastic Mulch Films in U.S. Strawberry Production: Results from a Multi-State Survey about U.S. Strawberry Growers’ Perceptions and Experiences of Plastic Mulch Films

Strawberry growers often use polyethylene plastic mulch films and, consequently, may be potential early adopters of biodegradable plastic mulch films. The report presents the results of a survey of strawberry growers that assesses this potential, as well as opinions about conventional and biodegradable plastic mulch and information about strawberry production practices and farm decision making.


strawberries on plastic mulch

​​Plastic Mulch in Fruit and Vegetable Production: Challenges for Disposal

Plastic mulch provides many benefits to growers, but is it sustainable? This fact sheet  gives a brief overview of how polyethylene (PE) mulch is being disposed of currently and what sustainable options are available.


plastic mulch film piled

​Soil Carbon and Biodegradable Mulches

Soil carbon, in the form of living microbes, litter and humus, provides many benefits to crop growth. This fact sheet provides a basic overview of soil carbon and addresses how the USDA Specialty Crop Research project, Performance and Adoptability of Biodgradable Mulch for Sustainable Specialty Crop Production, will determine how biodegradable plastic mulches are contributing to soil carbon.


Biodegradable plastic mulch at field trial site

Dimensions and Costs of Paper, Polyethylene and Biodegradable Plastic Mulch

This Washington State University factsheet provides an overview of mulch roll dimensions, weights, costs, and number of rolls needed per acre based on bed spacing. 


raised bed mulch film layer

Mechanically Laying Biodegradable Paper and Plastic Mulch

This Washington State University factsheet offers brief instructions on laying paper and plastic mulch film using raised bed mulch layers.


paper mulch newly laid

Finding Out How Biodegradable Plastic Mulches Change Over Time

The methods to assess and quantify deterioration and biodegredation of biodegradable plastic mulches are explained in this fact sheet. The USDA Specialty Crops Research project, Performance and Adoptability of Biodegradable Mulch for Sustainable Specialty Crop Production, is using these methods to assess the performance of biodegradable plastic mulches.


Preparing biodegradable mulch sample for testing

What Is an Endophyte?

Endophytes are organisms that exist in association with plant hosts, in foliage and/or roots. These relationships range from symbiotic to pathogenic. This fact sheet describes what endophytes are and how they contribute to overall plant health. Future research will explore the role of endophytes in cropping systems that use biodegradable mulch.


Endophyte hyphae on plant root

What Is the Technology Adoption Working Group and Why Is It Necessary?

The Technology Adoption Working Group of the USDA SCRI project focused on biodegradable mulches gathers information on grower experiences and opinions to share with the scientists designing and testing biodegradable plastic mulch products.


strawberries on plastic mulch

Biodegradable Plastic Mulch in Organic Vegetable Production Systems

This presentation offers an overview of biodegradable plastic mulch, an update on its status with respect to organic production systems, and preliminary results of one year of field testing conducted by the USDA SCRI research project, Performance and Adoptability of Biodegradable Plastic Mulch for Sustainable Specialty Crop Production. 


field trial of biodegradable plastic mulch at WSU Northwest Research and Extension Center

​Biodegradation – Putting Biology to Work

Biodegradation is the process by which microorganisms decompose compounds. These microbes are key to breaking down biodegradable mulches when they are tilled into the soil. Learn more through this fact sheet.



What Is Soil Quality and How Is It Measured?

This fact sheet provides an overview of the physical, chemical and biological soil properties measured to determine soil quality and changes to it. Soil quality is a measure of how well a soil provides nutrients and water for plants and other organisms, cleans and filters water, and recycles essential plant nutrients.


measuring CO2 concentration in the soil air

Why Grow Pumpkins in a Biodegradable Mulch Field Study?

This paper explains the selection of pumpkins for the USDA SCRI project in which we are assessing the performance of biodegradable mulches in crop production.


harvested pumpkins

Biodegradable Mulch Film for Organic Production Systems

This fact sheet outlines the rule established by the USDA-AMS National Organic Program defining requirements for a mulch film to be considered biodegradable and biobased. 


BDM WSU miles resized

Glossary of Terms Related to Biodegradable Mulch Films

With terms from “additive” to “transdisciplinary” and lots in between, this resource helps the user navigate the terminology associated with biodegradable plastic mulches and the USDA SCRI project studying their performance and adoptability.



Biodegradable Mulch Products

This resource identifies commercially available biodegradable mulch products, including paper and plastic types. The list is intended to help identify sources of mulch products and relevant contact information. It is neither exhaustive nor intended to be an endorsement of any product.

tractor laying weedguardplus cellulose biodegradable mulch