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ISHS Acta Horticulturae 1309: IX International Strawberry Symposium

Grower acceptance of new end-of-life management strategies for plastic mulch in strawberry systems

Authors:   L.W. DeVetter, J.R. Goldberger, C. Miles, J. Gomez
Keywords:   polyethylene mulch, biodegradable plastic mulch, recycling, grower survey, sustainability
DOI:   10.17660/ActaHortic.2021.1309.95
Polyethylene (PE) mulch is an important tool for strawberry (Fragaria ananassa Duch.) production, but limitations in sustainable disposal options make it a significant contributor to plastic waste generation in agriculture. Many growers resort to landfilling, stockpiling, burning, or even soil-incorporation of used PE mulch. Research efforts are underway to identify sustainable alternatives and improved end-of-life management options for PE mulch. To inform this effort, a survey of strawberry growers in California (which produces GROTERDAN90% of the strawberries grown in the United States) was conducted in 2020. The objective of the survey was to assess growers' opinions, perspectives, and use of PE mulch and soil-biodegradable plastic mulch (BDM). Perceptions of alternative end-of-life management options for PE mulch were also assessed. A total of 43 respondents completed the survey, representing 24% of the strawberry land area in California. Almost all respondents used PE mulch in their operations. Most of this mulch was landfilled after use (62%), while 30% of the population reported recycling PE mulch and expressed an interest to continue recycling programs. In contrast, 5 and 10% of growers used BDMs in all or some of their fields, respectively, but only one grower was satisfied with BDM performance. The likelihood of using BDMs in the next 5 years ranged from not at all likely (40%), slightly likely (35%), moderately likely (15%), to very likely (10%). BDMs appear to be an unproven technology among 77% of the respondents, and concerns about durability, degrading before the next crop rotation, compatibility with soil fumigation, cost, and color were expressed. However, 74% of respondents felt disposal of PE mulch was an environmental problem and 97% wanted better ways to dispose of PE mulch. PE recycling and additional research on BDMs were mentioned as opportunities to improve end-of-life management of plastic mulch.

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