Why Swiss scientists are asking people to bury underwear?

Helena Bachmann in Geneva
Helena Bachmann in Geneva - [email protected] • 8 Apr, 2021 Updated Thu 8 Apr 2021 11:50 CEST
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Digging a hole in the soil and hiding knickers under ground along with tea bags — yes, tea bags — may seem like a bizarre ritual. But in Switzerland, it is all done in the name of science.


As is often the case in Switzerland's grass-roots democracy, citizen participation is needed to carry out the project, launched on Wednesday by the Agroscope research institute along with the University of Zurich.

One thousand volunteers from all over the country will receive two pairs of cotton underwear and six tea bags, which they will have to bury it in a field, meadow or garden.

After two months, the garment will be dug up and its condition assessed to determine the quality of the soil.

Advanced decomposition, researchers say, will prove that active organisms are living in the soil, which means it is healthy.


Briefs have been used by farmers for several years as an indicators of soil health.

"But so far no one has verified that this method also meets scientific standards," said project director Marcel van der Heijden, ecologist at Agroscope and the University of Zurich.

But why tea bags?

The so-called “Tea Bag Index”, which is apparently a well-known phenomenon in soil research, will show long it takes for different types of tea to decompose.

As for the undies, the first experiment of this type carried out in 2019 at the Agroscope station in Zurich had shown that, in most cases, only the elastic band remains intact after two months.

The rest is devoured by earthworms, woodlice, bacteria, fungi, mites and other microorganisms lurking under ground. And that is a sign that Switzerland’s soil is in great shape.

If you would like to volunteer to be a local soil tester, you can order your underwear-and-tea kit here.







Helena Bachmann in Geneva 2021/04/08 11:50

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