Garbage in the Garden? – The Plastic Mulch Debate


After coming across an article from the Tulsa World the other day, we at MiniRoots would like to hear from all of you about your thoughts on Plastic Mulch.

A brief summary of what plastic mulch attempts to accomplish and the benefits it claims to provide:

  • Increased soil temperature to help promote growth
  • Increased weed control in comparison to organic mulch
  • More streamlined water and fertilizing due to guidance from a plastic sheet
  • Reduction of soil erosion and compacting
  • Reduction of potential diseases from organic material in other mulches
  • High initial startup cost with lower longterm cost
  • Finally, increased plant growth in light of the above.

Among all of these benefits, there seems to be a glaring drawback: the use of an entirely inorganic material to aid and accelerate an otherwise organic process. The plastic mulch and other plastics used are similar, if not identical in make up to the trash bags many of us use in our homes. Sure, we would all like to see an increased growth with our vegetables, but are there dangers in using a plastic mulch to do so? Dissenting opinions like the ones found on Mother Earth News seem to think so. Many of the concerns are about BPA leaching into the soil and plant, thereby making the yield unhealthy. Similar concern about BPA is seen with plastic water bottles. Currently, the FDA allows for certain levels of BPA to be used in products as they have deemed low levels of it safe to use. However, research and review into it is ongoing.

On the other hand, organic mulch consists of a wide range of “compost, shredded bark, straw, composted animal manures, sawdust, paper”, as well as other organic materials. One of the obvious benefits of organic mulch is the ability to directly provide nutrients to the plants, as well as help promote the growth and development of micro-cultures in the soil. In addition, organic matter, unlike its inorganic counterpart, decomposes and will not harm the environment. There are a few concerns with organic mulch that pertain to the plants coming in contact with different diseases, but this is something that can happen with any growing process.

In light of this, the question remains: are the accelerated and sizable growth gains worth the risk and potential drawback of plastic mulch; or is organic mulch the way to go?

It’s important that we generate discussion and feedback as we grow our mission here at MiniRoots. The food that we grow in our communities will end up being the food we eat in our communities. Each of you has a say in how your food is grown and what is put on your plate. Make your voice heard and we look forward to the discussion!


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