I am at a farm where previous tenants left a non-biodegradable plastic film roughly 10-15 years ago. It is inconsistently spread over a few acres and was not discovered until we attempted plowing the fields. The fields are overgrown with weeds (grasses, thistles, small shrubs, etc.) about 1m tall and this growth has fragmented the plastic considerably (see image, left). The plastic must be removed in order for food to be safely grown there, and to meet the organic standards of the farm.

What method and equipment (such as an excavator) would best remove the plastic and top layers of soil, with minimal damage to the remaining soil (ie minimal degradation)? close-up of black plastic,left, and view of field growth, right.

  • $\begingroup$ The left picture suggests large parts of it can be recovered manually in winter. That is the only practical (half) solution I can think of. Googling for possible answers I found you're not the only one. No solutions though - if Google translate is good enough you can maybe find out through the original article if anyone in China is working on a solution. $\endgroup$ – Jan Doggen Aug 6 '15 at 14:28
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    $\begingroup$ Maybe more appropriate for: sustainability.stackexchange.com $\endgroup$ – arkaia Aug 6 '15 at 16:58
  • $\begingroup$ Removal will be expensive - I think you'd need to excavate the foil and use a windsifter to separate it from the earth. Test if this works before ordering the excavator! $\endgroup$ – mart Oct 15 '15 at 11:41

One issue that you've got is the area will be contaminated with fragments of plastic that are microscopic in size to large pieces and they will be at varying depths throughout the soil.

To most people that wouldn't be much of a problem, but for you, who wants to grow food with an organic certification it's going to be a major problem.

Setting fire to that land and burning the plastic with dried vegetation is not a option for you and your desired organic accreditation.

If you can't use the land for another purpose, such a site for new buildings, a parking lot for visitors, or a new roadway you may need to dig deeply to remove the affected soil, and more, and then import replacement soil from elsewhere.

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    $\begingroup$ Not to mention that any part of the plastic that's under ground simply won't burn. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Aug 6 '15 at 21:11

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