Waste-to-energy risk perception typology: health, politics and environmental impacts

Subiza-Pérez, Mikel; Zabala, Aiora; Groten, Daniel; Vozmediano, Laura; Juan, César San and Ibarluzea, Jesús (2023). Waste-to-energy risk perception typology: health, politics and environmental impacts. Journal of Risk Research, 26(10) pp. 1101–1118.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/13669877.2023.2259402


Where strategies to reduce and recycle urban solid waste are insufficient, waste incineration is proposed as second-best management. Waste-to-energy facilities often raise remarkable public controversy, which the Not-In-My-Backyard effect does not explain sufficiently. Heterogeneous concerns lead to diverse risk perception profiles that standard psychometric scales cannot uncover. We explore this diversity of profiles by analyzing risk perceptions about a recently built waste-to-energy facility in Gipuzkoa (Spain), a case underlined by a decades-long public debate about waste management alternatives. Using Q, a semi-qualitative method, we identify risk perceptions within a diverse sample of fifty participants, including residents at different distances to the facility. We identify three main types of risk perception based on the relative importance respondents gave to 26 possible perceived risks of the facility. We define risk perception types according to the concerns that respondents with similar views emphasized most: human health, politics and institutions, and local social-ecological impacts. Whereas human-health and social-ecological concerns could be partially addressed with information—including timely and accessible reporting of effluent monitoring—and improved safety, building institutional trust to mitigate the concerns in the second risk perception type requires longer-term dynamics. Understanding heterogeneous risk profiles as done in this study can support adequate communication strategies and help policymakers prioritize governance areas to improve. Our results contribute to understanding social-environmental risk perceptions associated with controversial facilities. Using an approach that is new in this domain, these results add nuanced understanding that complements the quantitative profiling prevalent in the literature on risk perceptions and about waste-to-energy plants.

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