Bioplastics and bioplastic composites are a group of emerging sustainable materials that exhibit favorable characteristics for use in horticulture-production containers. Biocontainers made from composite materials of soy [Glycine max (L.) Merr.] bioplastic and poly(lactic) acid (PLA) have been shown to release nitrogen (N) at a rate suitable for supporting plant growth. We hypothesized that fertilizer applications can be reduced while maintaining adequate nutrition levels for plant production when using soy-based containers. To test this hypothesis and quantify potential reduction of fertilizer, we grew marigold ‘Honeycomb’ (Tagetes patula L.) in five prototypes of soy-composite biocontainers [soy bioplastic compounded with PLA or polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA)] and a petroleum-plastic (polypropylene) control container with five fertilizer treatments supplying 1) 60N‒4P‒49K; 2) 75N‒5P‒61K; 3) 105N‒7P‒85K; 4) 150N‒10P‒122K; or 5) 300N‒20P‒244K mg. At harvest, plants grown in all soy‒PLA composite biocontainers and protein + PLA biocontainers had higher concentrations and contents of N and P compared with plants grown in petroleum-plastic containers across all fertilizer treatments. Shoot K concentrations were highest for plants grown in all soy‒PLA and soy‒PHA biocontainers compared with plants grown in petroleum-plastic containers across all fertilizer treatments, whereas shoot K concentrations in plants grown in protein + PLA biocontainers were equal to or lower than plants in petroleum-plastic containers. Total plant dry weight was greater for plants grown in biocontainers made of 50% soy‒50% PLA and protein + PLA than for plants grown in control containers across all fertilizer treatments except at the highest rate of fertilizer in which plants received 300N‒20P‒244K mg. Our results support the hypothesis that fertilizer inputs can be reduced when using soy-composite biocontainers. Biocontainers made with equal parts soy bioplastic and PLA showed strong potential for achieving adequate plant growth with reduced fertilizer input. Our results demonstrate that fertilizer can be reduced by as much as 80% when growing marigold in containers made of 50% soy‒50% PLA for 6 weeks.
Kenneth G. McCabe, James A. Schrader, Christopher J. Currey, David Grewell and William R. Graves
Nicholas J. Flax, Christopher J. Currey, Alexander G. Litvin, James A. Schrader, David Grewell and William R. Graves
Various types of emerging bioplastic containers present a range of physical and chemical properties and can perform differently from one another in production environments. Container performance may be affected by substrate moisture content. We quantified the effects of bioplastic container type and substrate volumetric water content (VWC) on the aesthetic and mechanical strength properties of bioplastic containers and on plant growth. Seedlings of ‘Divine Cherry Red’ new guinea impatiens (Impatiens hawkeri W. Bull) and ‘Pinot Premium Deep Red’ zonal geranium (Pelargonium ×hortorum L.H. Bailey) were transplanted into five types of 11.4-cm–diameter containers, four types made from bioplastics and one type made from petroleum-based plastic and used as a control. Plants were watered to container capacity at transplant, allowed to dry down to VWC thresholds of 0.20 or 0.40 m3·m−3, and subsequently maintained at desired set points by using a precision irrigation system controlled by soil moisture sensors. Total volume of water applied per plant to new guinea impatiens was affected by VWC and not container type, whereas irrigation volume was affected by both for geranium. Growth index and shoot dry mass (SDM) of new guinea impatiens and geranium were affected by VWC. Container type affected growth index and SDM of geranium only. Water use efficiency (WUE) of both species was similar regardless of container type and VWC. Aesthetic quality varied based on VWC for only one container type, which was made from a blend that included soy-based bioplastic. Containers manufactured with polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA) and dried distiller’s grains and solubles (DDGS) or polylactic acid (PLA), soy polymer with adipic anhydride (SP.A), and a proprietary bio-based filler (BR) derived from modified DDGS were stronger when maintained at a lower VWC, 0.20 m3·m−3. Our findings indicate that restricting irrigation to the minimum needed to achieve the desired crop growth is a viable strategy for sustaining aesthetic quality and strength of bioplastic containers manufactured with plant protein–based fillers such as SP.A and BR. Other bioplastic containers, such as those made of PLA–lignin biocomposite, show durability equal to that of petroleum-based plastic containers and maintain pristine appearance regardless of substrate VWC during production.