Surveys show growing acceptance of water reuse in Europe

Oct. 25, 2021
A recent survey of the UK, Spain and the Netherlands found that up to 75% of respondents supported water recycling for drinking.

A new set of European surveys have revealed that the public reaction to wastewater recycling may not be as bad as previously thought.

An anticipated negative perception of water recycling, or wastewater reuse, is frequently cited as a stumbling block when delivering large-scale water recycling projects. However, the new surveys have revealed that the public is more open to wastewater recycling than the water sector has historically believed.

Issued by Cranfield University to over 2500 participants in the UK, Spain and the Netherlands, the surveys focused on recycled water for drinking purposes and recovered nutrients to grow food. They intended to find up-to-date views on the state of acceptance of wastewater recycling for direct potable reuse, especially with more projects coming online.

Headline results showed that in the Netherlands, 75 percent of respondents supported or strongly supported the use of recycled water for drinking, compared to 67 percent in the UK and 73 percent in Spain.

Interestingly, there was also a higher support for consuming food grown using recovered nutrients from wastewater than drinking recycled water in all three countries (75 percent in the Netherlands, 74 percent in the UK, and 85 percent in Spain).

Heather Smith, senior lecturer in Water Governance at Cranfield University, said this is due to the perceived closer connection between clean water and wastewater than recovered nutrients and food.

“We looked at the drivers behind people's reactions, and there is a powerful influence from what we call social norms. Opinions on both recycled water and food were strongly affected by beliefs in their immediate networks.”

The surveys were part of Horizon2020 (H2020) NextGen, a collaboration that aims to drive the circular economy in Europe through a wide range of water-embedded resources, including water, energy and materials.

Jos Frijns, resilience management & governance team leader at KWR, the coordinating organisation behind NextGen, said that there had been a recent shift in water reuse, especially in the public sector.

“Five years ago in the Netherlands, the suggestion of the direct potable reuse of wastewater would have certainly been seen as a no-go. The water industry would say the general public wouldn’t want this. However, this mindset is now shifting.”

Results from the surveys are expected to be fed into long-term public engagement strategies for water recycling projects.

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