Risk Perception of Plastic Pollution: Importance of Stakeholder Involvement and Citizen Science

Kristian Syberg, Steffen Foss Hansen, Thomas Budde Christensen, Farhan Khan

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Risk perception has a significant impact on how society reacts to a given risk. There have been cases where a mismatch between the actual risk and the perception of it has led to poor decisions on societal initiatives, such as inappropriate regulatory measures. It is therefore important that the perception of risk is based on an informed foundation acknowledging the biases and drivers that inevitably go with risk perception. Plastic pollution differs in regard to other classical risks, such as those posed by chemicals or genetically modified organisms (GMOs), since the pollution is more visible and already has a significant magnitude. At the same time, everyone is familiar with using plastic, and our daily lives are highly dependent on the use of plastic. This offers some potential to strengthen the societal risk perception and subsequently implement effective measures to address the pollution.

In this chapter, we define eight risk perception drivers (voluntariness, control, knowledge, timing, severity, benefit, novelty, and tangibility) and relate these drivers to plastic pollution. We discuss the process in which plastic pollution has been recognized as an important environmental problem by scientists, the public, and policy makers and elaborate on how the eight risk drivers have influenced this process. Plastic pollution has several of the characteristics that can enhance people’s perception of the risk as being important and which has generated great awareness of the problem. The chapter finally discusses how risk perception can be improved by greater stakeholder involvement and utilization of citizen science and thereby improve the foundation for timely and efficient societal measures.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationFreshwater Microplastics - Emerging Environmental Contaminants?
EditorsM. Wagner, S. Lambert
Number of pages25
Publication date2017
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-319-61615-5
Publication statusPublished - 2017
SeriesThe Handbook of Environmental Chemistry


  • Citizen science
  • Plastic pollution
  • Public participation
  • Risk perception
  • Stakeholder involvement

Cite this

Syberg, K., Hansen, S. F., Christensen, T. B., & Khan, F. (2017). Risk Perception of Plastic Pollution: Importance of Stakeholder Involvement and Citizen Science. In M. Wagner, & S. Lambert (Eds.), Freshwater Microplastics - Emerging Environmental Contaminants? (pp. 203-221). Springer. The Handbook of Environmental Chemistry, Vol.. 58 https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-61615-5_10