Actors and interpretations in an environmental controversy: the Swedish debate on sewage sludge use in agriculture
Journal article, 2004
This study examines the Swedish debate on the sustainability of using sewage sludge as fertiliser in agriculture. Although the use of sludge as fertiliser presents potential resource and environmental advantages, it can have negative effects on people and soil productivity. Both proponents and opponents of agricultural application of sludge use environmental arguments to support their positions. By 1990, the Swedish parliament stressed the importance of recycling nutrients from wastewater; however, despite low levels of contamination, compared to other countries, little sludge is used in agriculture today. During the last few decades, a large amount of research has addressed the risks and benefits of using sludge as fertiliser, but the central actors have not been able to reach lasting agreements. This study, which is based on document analysis, direct observations, and interviews, analyses the beliefs, preferences, and arguments of major actors in the national debate on sludge. The study investigates how actors define problems and interpret the risks and benefits of sludge use. Specifically, the study concentrates on the role of science in the sludge controversy. Two distinct ways of thinking - a precautionary frame and a proof-first frame - are identified. These frames are shown almost immune to factual claims and arguments from opponents. It is concluded that actors in the controversy need to address explicitly value judgements and beliefs that go beyond scientific information. In addition, the study concludes that there is a need for policy makers to further develop process leadership skills. © 2004 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.