Plastics – Publics – Politics (BMBF)

  • PI: Prof. Dr. Ruth Müller
  • Researcher: Dr. Sarah Schönbauer

Plastics and specifically microplastics in the environment are increasingly receiving public attention. Headlines such as “Dangerous mini-poison-bomb” (Focus online, 2012) or “Underestimated Danger – Plastic particles contaminate food” (Spiegel online, 2013) point to an increasing public discourse about microplastics as a potential environmental and health risk. Increasing public attention is going hand in hand with a surge in scientific and political engagement with the topic.

The project “Plastics – Publics – Politics” analyses how different stakeholders perceive and understand microplastics and how it is discussed and rendered potentially problematic in different social arenas, such as the media, civil society, science or policy. Thereby, the project generates a better understanding of the societal contexts in which current efforts to change the use and governance of plastics unfold.

The study employs qualitative social science methods, such as a media analysis of the representation of microplastics in daily and weekly German newspapers, interviews with scientists and citizen activists, and focus groups with citizens. Furthermore, the project fosters inter- and transdisciplinary dialogue between stakeholders from science, politics, civil society and industry, for which the project team collaborates with the German Federal Environment Office.

The project is part of the transdisciplinary consortium “SubµTrack: Tracking of (Sub)Microplastics of different identities” (, which explores the toxicological, ecological as well as the social and political aspects of micro and nano plastic particles in the environment,. The consortium is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) as part of a BMBF-funded initiative “Plastic in the Environment“ ( The project “Plastics – Publics – Politics” receives additional funds from the MCTS Lab “Engineering Responsibility”.

Project leader(s):
Prof. Dr. Ruth Müller

03.2018 – 08.2021

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