The iMulch project investigates the impact of polymers on the terrestrial ecosystem represented by mulch films which are applied in agricultural farming. The project is funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF - or EFRE in German) and has a term of three years (01/2019-12/2022).

Project partners

·         Institute for Energy and Environmental Technology e.V. (IUTA, Corrdination)
·         Fischer GmbH
·         Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology (IME)
·         Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety, and Energy Technology (UMSICHT)
·         Institute for Applied Microbiology at the RWTH Aachen (iAMB)
·         Institute for Environmental Research at the RWTH Aachen

iMulch is structured in 6 work packages of which the Institute for Environmental Research coordinates the package 4 “Environmental behavior and effects”.
Research focus is set on ecotoxicological assessment of the mulch films themselves and emanating leaching products. Thereby not only commonly applied petroleum-based but also biobased mulch films are investigated.
Using representative organisms, such as the earthworms Lumbricus terrestris or Eisenia andreij and the collembolan Eisenia andreij, the main goal is to assess the influence of mulch films and their residues on terrestrial fauna. Moreover, we aim to estimate the potential synergistic effects between mulch film residues and pesticides, which might bind preferentially to plastic particles and then enhance bioavailability when taken up by animals (trojan-horse effect).

Next to the directly affected terrestrial ecosystem, leaching products of mulch films are especially interesting concerning their mechanistic effects which expands the necessary assessment area to aquatic systems. Aquatic species can be affected by leaching products and/or bound pesticides through various modes of action (MoA). MoA are substance specific functional or anatomical changes resulting from exposure of organisms. For animal health reasons, highly specific and sensitive in vitro assays have been development and are commonly used to assess MoA. Recommended effects-based tools are in vitro methods addressing specific MoA such as genotoxicity (mutagenicity, also leading to cancerogenicity), endocrine disruption, and activation of cellular defense mechanisms, e.g., dioxin-like acitivity (Brack et al. 2019), which are applied in this project. Possible inducers originating from plastics are plasticizers and stabilizers, which are partly already restricted through the European Chemical Agency (ECHA) because of their potential hazard and endocrine activity.

Due to the large discrepancy in plastics ecotoxicological research interest in aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, potential effects on terrestrial organism are not completely understood to this day. Mulch films thereby only represent one single source of entry into the environment next to sewage sludge or fibers and particles transported via air and water.

Thus the whole project will also try to cover up existing knowledge gaps concerning fate, behavior, degradation, methods of detection, etc., to develop an eco-balance and a holistic strategy of substitution for mulch films.

Working on this project are Antonia Weltmeyer, Christoph Kämpfer und scientific supervision of Thomas-Benjamin Seiler, Henner Hollert (Goethe-University Frankfurt) and Martina Roß-Nickoll.



Brack, W., Ait-Aissa, S., Backhaus, T., Dulio, V., Escher, B.I., Faust, M., Hilscherova, K., Hollender, J., Hollert, H., Müller, C., Munthe, J., Posthuma, L., Seiler, T.-B., Slobodnik, J., Teodorovic, I., Tindall, A.J., De Aragão Umbuzeiro, G., Zhang, X., Altenburger, R. (2019):
Effect‑based methods are key. The European Collaborative Project SOLUTIONS recommends integrating effect‑based methods for diagnosis and monitoring of water quality
Environ. Sci. Eur. 31, art. 10