Controversy over antibacterial silver: implications for environmental and sustainability assessments
Journal article, 2014

The potential risks and benefits of using silver, especially nanosilver, as an antibacterial agent in consumer and healthcare products are under debate globally. Using content analysis of texts from newspaper and TV, government agencies, municipalities, government and parliament, non-governmental organizations, and companies, we analyze the argumentation in the Swedish public controversy over antibacterial silver and relate the findings to environmental and sustainability assessments.We conclude that silver is regarded as either beneficial or harmful in relation to four main values: the environment, health, sewage treatment, and product effectiveness. Various arguments are used to support positive and negative evaluations of silver, revealing several contradictory reasons for considering silver beneficial or harmful. Current environmental and sustainability assessments (i.e. substance flow analysis, risk analysis, multi-criteria analysis, and lifecycle assessment) cover many of the concerns raised in the public controversy over antibacterial silver and can therefore inform the debate regarding its toxicity, emissions, and environmental impact. However, not all concerns raised in the public controversy are covered by current environmental and sustainability assessments, most notably, concerns over public health and bacterial resistance issues are not paid full attention. For future environmental and sustainability assessments to make an even more significant societal contribution and to inform consumers and decision-makers about concerns articulated in the public debate, a wider range of issues concerning antibacterial silver needs to be considered through a unified framework.

Environmental assessment

Content analysis



Sustainability assessment



Max Boholm

University of Gothenburg

Rickard Arvidsson

Chalmers, Energy and Environment, Environmental Systems Analysis

Journal of Cleaner Production

0959-6526 (ISSN)

Vol. 68 135-143

Subject Categories

Social Sciences Interdisciplinary

Other Humanities not elsewhere specified

Communication Studies

Nano Technology

Environmental Sciences



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