Filipe Pedra, Maria L. Inácio, Paula Fareleira, Pedro Oliveira, Pablo Pereira, Corina Carranca

Long-Term Effects of Plastic Mulch in a Sandy Loam Soil Used to Cultivate Blueberry in Southern Portugal

  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences
  • General Environmental Science

Numerous plastic products are used in agriculture, including containers, packaging, tunnels, drip irrigation tubing, and mulches. Large amounts of plastics are used as mulches on the soil surface for vegetable and fruit production (tomato, cucumber, watermelon, strawberry, and vine) to reduce weed competition, increase water and fertilizer use efficiency, and enhance crop yield. Portugal uses around 4500 t/year of polyethylene to cover approximately 23,000 ha of agricultural land, and only a small amount is recovered for recycling or secondary uses because of issues of contamination with the soil, vegetation, pesticides, and fertilizers. Cleaning and decontaminating polyethylene mulch are costly, and commercial technology is often not accessible or economical. Most plastic mulch is composed of polyethylene that degrades slowly and produces a large quantity of residues in the soil, with a negative impact on the environment. In the present study, the effects of long-term cultivation of blueberry using green 100% high-density polyethylene mulch in the south Portugal were evaluated for soil chemical and biological changes. High-density green plastic mulch did not contaminate the topsoil with di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, and heavy metals, buttotal nitrogen, organic carbon concentrations, electric conductivity, and microbial activity were significantly reduced in the planting row compared with the bare soil without mulching. Furthermore, the presence of plastic mulch did not negatively affect the presence of nematodes, and the number of Rhabditida (bacterial feeders) increased in the planting and covered row.

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