It's #TechnicalTuesday so Fiona Thompson, Water Supply Consultant in our Technical Consulting team, is exploring the negative perception around direct water recycling.
Using domestic wastewater as a source of clean drinking water may feel disgusting to some, but it could be a resilient water source. Direct water recycling provides the same standard of drinking water as the treatment of traditional water sources, such as rivers and groundwater. Of course, a rigorous safety plan is required with fail safe procedures, but direct water recycling has been shown to be an effective drinking water supply source across the world. And yet, public perception generally remains negative and the social acceptability low.
The word ‘disgusting’ was used previously with intension, it is a key emotional response for direct water resources. Disgust is a powerful emotion that impacts our behaviour. Significant research has focused on identifying what initiates the disgust response, and models have been developed to predict the strength of the disgust response relating to direct water recycling. It is acknowledged that the disgust response is not voluntary or conscious, with the response occurring even with knowledge that the drinking water from direct water recycling is of the same quality as drinking water from traditional sources. Desensitisation techniques are one possibility to remove or reduce the disgust reaction from direct water recycling, although the effects may be limited. Mitigating the reaction through education has not been found to be consistently effective, but it has been found to be beneficial for improving trust in water suppliers - another important factor to public perception of direct water reuse. The greater trust in water suppliers people have, the more likely people are to accept drinking water from new sources. Other factors are the individual differences between us, such as our values, priorities, pressures, knowledge and need. With the variety of individual differences there are, a generic solution to improving public perception of direct water recycling is unlikely. So how can we improve the public perception of direct water recycling?
While there is no specific answer, consulting and engaging with communities early and continuously throughout the process of direct water recycling option development is highly beneficial for the acceptance of the project. Through this you can hear and address concerns of the communities, impart knowledge of the treatment and safety processes and increase trust through transparency and two way communication. The consistency of communication and engagement is important and should be maintained throughout the development project. Engagement sessions and communications should not be too infrequent or irregular and communication should always be open to the communities to increase and maintain trust.