Plastic residual film pollution in China is severe, and the use of degradable mulch film instead of plastic mulch can effectively alleviate this situation. The substitution of common polyethylene plastic mulch film with biodegradable mulch film in the agricultural production of cotton and maize in an arid region was investigated in the present study. Using bare soil as the control, we compared the effects of common polyethylene plastic film and biodegradable mulch film on crop growth, yield, and water use efficiency (WUE) in maize and cotton. The results indicated that: (1) the biodegradable mulch film in this region remained intact for 60 days after being laid down, significantly degrading after 120 days, and was associated with increased soil temperature, moisture conservation, and degradability in comparison to a bare soil control; (2) Both the biodegradable mulch film and the polyethylene plastic film significantly increased various physiological parameters, such as crop height, stalk diameter, and leaf area; (3) The biodegradable mulch film had a significant effect on crop yield by 69.4–76.2% and 65.2–71.9%, respectively, compared to the bare soil control. (4) Compared to the bare soil control, the biodegradable mulch film effectively increased WUE in the crops by 64.5–73.1%. In summary, biodegradable mulch film had comparable results to the common polyethylene plastic film in increasing crop growth, yield, and WUE. As the biodegradable mulch film causes no residual pollution, it is thus preferable to common plastic mulch film for agricultural applications in arid regions and supports the sustainable development of agroecosystems. Therefore, the use of degradable mulch films in agricultural production is more environmentally friendly and more conducive to the sustainable development of agricultural systems.
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