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Assessing the Levels of Awareness among European Citizens about the Direct and Indirect Impacts of Plastics on Human Health

Barbir, Jelena and Leal Filho, Walter and Salvia, Amanda Lange and Christin Fendt, Maren Theresa and Babaganov, Rachel and Albertini, Maria Cristina and Bonoli, Alessandra and Lackner, Maximilian and de Quevedo, Daniela Muller (2021) Assessing the Levels of Awareness among European Citizens about the Direct and Indirect Impacts of Plastics on Human Health. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18 (6). ISSN 1660-4601

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Abstract

There is an urgent need to assess European citizens’ perspective regarding their plastic consumption and to evaluate their awareness of the direct and indirect effect of plastics on human health in order to influence current behavior trends. In this study, the evaluation has been cross-related with scientific facts, with the final aim of detecting the most recommendable paths in increasing human awareness, reducing plastic consumption, and consequently impacting human health. A statistical analysis of quantitative data, gathered from 1000 European citizens via an online survey in the period from May to June 2020, showed that a general awareness about the direct impact of plastic consumption and contamination (waste) on human health is high in Europe. However, only a few participants (from a higher educational group) were aware of the indirect negative effects that oil extraction and industrial production of plastic can have on human health. This finding calls for improved availability of this information to general public. Despite the participants’ positive attitude toward active plastic reduction (61%), plastic consumption on a daily basis is still very high (86%). The most common current actions toward plastic reduction are plastic bag usage, reusage, or replacement with sustainable alternatives (e.g., textile bags) and selecting products with less plastic packaging. The participants showed important criticism toward the information available to the general public about plastics and health. This awareness is important since significant relation has been found between the available information and the participants’ decisions on the actions they might undertake to reduce plastic consumption. The study clearly showed the willingness of the participants to take action, but they also requested to be strongly supported with joint efforts from government, policies, and marketing, defining it as the most successful way toward implementing these changes.

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