OSU Team Wins EPA P3 Award for Their Proposal: Developing Sustainable Alternatives to Plastic Mulch


An Oregon State University team consisting of graduate students from the Water Resources Graduate Program and Biological and Ecological Engineering undergraduates competed in the EPA People, Prosperity and the Planet Sustainability Design Competition in Washington D.C. over the Earth Day Weekend and were one of 12 teams that won a Phase II award !  They also met with U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and participated in the Sustainability Design Expo where the 45 other Phase I award winners (out of 165 applicants)  exhibited their work and competed for Phase II awards.

Mulching is an agricultural practice that has been used for centuries, but now, instead of using biodegradable products such as straw as mulch, farmers use plastic sheeting to serve the same purposes (soil water retention, warming, and weed suppression). Globally, enough plastic sheeting is laid down each year that it would cover an area the size of the state of Washington, and when it is pulled up at the end of the growing season,  most of it either goes to landfills or is burned. Team member Mark Ingman has seen the pollution resulting from this practice first hand in China, as well as in the U.S.,  and produced a documentary film, “Following a Plastic Trail” on the subject that can be viewed on Planet Forward at:  http://planetforward.org/epa-p3/

The project “Developing Sustainable Alternatives to the Plastic Mulch Used in Agriculture” included efforts to raise awareness of the problems farmers face as a result of lack of disposal or recycling options for used plastic sheeting,  and testing (both in the field and in the laboratory) of commercially available mulch products along with a prototype mulch developed by the OSU  team that uses waste agricultural materials (flax and waste wool)  to replace plastic sheeting used extensively as an agricultural “mulch” around the world. 

Team members include:  Mark Ingman and Tucker Selko (WRPM), Kara DiFrancesco (WRE), Alison Doniger (WRS),  and BEE undergraduates Dustin DeGeorge, Courtney Holley, and Isaiah Miller.  Two other undergraduates (Michelle Anderson, Crop and Soil Science and Randi Ponce, Textiles science) were unable to travel to the Expo in D.C. but assisted on the Phase I project. The student team was advised by Mary Santelmann (College of Earth, Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences), with assistance from faculty members Hsiou-Lien Chen and Brigitte Cluver (Design and Human Environment), James Cassidy (Crop and Soil Science), and Kaichang Li (Wood Science and Engineering).   

Students with award