Swiss bury 2,000 pairs of underpants in service of science

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HANDOUT - 08 April 2021, Switzerland, ---: A man holds a pair of underwear after it was removed out from the soil which was buried in it during a project to study the soil quality. Farmers and garden owners are burying 2,000 pairs of white underwear across Switzerland in a study of soil quality operated by the state research institute Agroscope. Photo: Nicolas Zonvi/Agroscope/dpa - ACHTUNG: Nur zur redaktionellen Verwendung im Zusammenhang mit der aktuellen Berichterstattung und nur mit vollständiger Nennung des vorstehenden Credits
HANDOUT - 08 April 2021, Switzerland, ---: A man holds a pair of underwear after it was removed out from the soil which was buried in it during a project to study the soil quality. Farmers and garden owners are burying 2,000 pairs of white underwear across Switzerland in a study of soil quality operated by the state research institute Agroscope. Photo: Nicolas Zonvi/Agroscope/dpa - ACHTUNG: Nur zur redaktionellen Verwendung im Zusammenhang mit der aktuellen Berichterstattung und nur mit vollständiger Nennung des vorstehenden Credits

(dpa) – Farmers and garden owners are burying 2,000 pairs of white underwear across Switzerland in a study of soil quality.

The state research institute Agroscope is sending two pairs of cotton underpants each to voluntary study participants to bury in soil.

The underpants will later be examined to see how much the textiles have been broken down by tiny organisms.

“This is an indicator of soil quality,” project leader Marcel van der Heijden said on Thursday.

The ecologist told dpa there had already been similar experiments with underpants in Canada, but not on this scale. It is already known that the burial of tea bags can be used as to gauge soil health.

The volunteers who came forward after Agroscope’s call-out will bury standardized tea bags for comparison and also take soil samples to test the reliability of the pants method.
The project is running under the name “Evidence Underpants.”

One pair of underpants will be dug up and photographed from the meadows, plant beds and fields after one month and the second after another month.

Afterwards, the decomposition of the natural fibres will be digitally analysed: the more holes, the healthier the soil.

In a pilot study, the participants’ own intimate clothing was buried, but the textiles were not comparable, van der Heijden said. That’s why researchers are now relying on standardized pants, he said. “This is more scientific.”

He said the underwear study was also intended to highlight the threat to vital soil from erosion, overuse of fertilizers and construction.

According to Agroscope, every year an area two and a half times the size of Switzerland is destroyed worldwide in such a way that it becomes unusable for agriculture.

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