Recycled Water and the ‘Yuck’ Factor

As global freshwater supplies shrink, recycled drinking water (RDW) has become an increasingly important source of water supply. Aside from the over usage of water, climate change may also exacerbate water shortages as more frequent extreme weather events may reduce the availability of freshwater.

There are a number of reasons why RDW is considered a sustainable and viable source of water: First, recycling is economically efficient as wastewater is often found at the source of use, reducing transport costs especially if the cities are far inland. Second, there are savings in the urban water supply and wastewater systems as costs of diversion structures, drought storage and treatment and nutrient removal costs for discharging to sensitive waters. Third, although the cost of desalination has decreased considerably over the years, water reuse is still generally cheaper than desalination, which is generally thought to be more energy-intensive.

However, RDW remains an underinvested resource despite being a safe and reliable source of water. People are reluctant to accept RDW on emotional grounds of disgust, a visceral psychological reaction known as the “yuck” factor.

This paper investigates the role of emotions in technical decision-making and applies it to RDW implementation. There are two case-studies discussed: One, the first successful large-scale recycled drinking water in Windhoek, Namibia and the other, a failed implementation in East Valley, United States.

This summary is based on the research paper The Role of Emotions in Drinking Recycled Water.

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