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Microplastics in the Environment: Much Ado about Nothing? A Debate

Journal article
Authors Thomas Backhaus
M. Wagner
Published in Global Challenges
Volume 4
Issue 6
Pages 10
ISSN 2056-6646
Publication year 2020
Published at Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences
Pages 10
Language en
Keywords evidence-based policies, microplastics, plastic pollution, precautionary, principles, risk assessment, academic research, chemicals, panel, Science & Technology - Other Topics
Subject categories Earth and Related Environmental Sciences


This article documents a debate between the two authors on the issue of microplastics in the environment. It is sparked by a viewpoint published by G. Allen Burton, who argues that the risk of microplastics is overrated. The authors have started debating this notion on Twitter, but the format has quickly turned out to be too cumbersome to exchange arguments. It is thus decided to continue the conversation by exchanging letters published as preprints in roughly four-week intervals. In these contributions, a broad range of relevant issues are touched upon, including the differences in risk conceptions, risk communication in the attention economy, risk assessment in situations of scientific uncertainty, the need to test proper hypotheses, the problem of prioritizing environmental issues, the costs of action and inaction, the application of the precautionary principle or a strictly evidence-based approach for policy-making and, eventually, larger issues related to the Anthropocene. In hindsight, it is felt that this debate is rewarding because it made possible expressing and reflecting on the values and opinions in ways otherwise impossible in social media and standard scientific articles.

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