Recycling wastewater is becoming an increasingly frequent method for water conservation, especially in developing countries. As new technologies emerge and water shortages become more severe, recycling wastewater is becoming a viable method for gaining access to sustainable water sources. But there is a major barrier to implementing water recycling, especially in developed countries: human psychology. The idea of drinking or using recycled wastewater is appealing to people on a societal level, but when they are faced with using this water themselves, emotion kicks in and something called the “yuck” factor influences our decision-making process. As Norman is becoming more invested in water recycling and public water reclamation programs grow, I am interested in looking at how the citizens of Norman feel about using this water. What can we do to overcome the “yuck” factor?
Some research questions I have thought of include whether the environmental, economic, or social benefits of conserving water through wastewater recycling can outweigh our emotional reaction. If we know more about the technology are we more willing to use it? Or are our ideals so deeply rooted that an extensive water recycling project in Norman would fail? Does the way we use the water influence our disgust or lack thereof? To investigate this, I plan to cooperate with the City of Norman and create a survey that provides information on the technology and the economic benefits of reusing our water to see how this influences willingness to use the water. I will also measure disgust reactions and look at participant characteristics to see what causes this disgust, and therefore how it can be overcome.
As a psychology and environmental studies major, I have always been interested in what influences behavior change, and how attitudes about the environment lead to tangible behavior. I think this project will reveal a lot about the future of water resources in Norman and the potential barriers we as a city will need to overcome to achieve a sustainable water supply.