Attitudes Toward Wastewater Recycling: Results from a National Survey of U.S. Households
Wednesday, April 22, 2015
This paper analyzes a unique dataset collected during a 2011 national survey of 1,327 U.S. households to explore their attitudes toward recycled wastewater (RW) for 7 different uses: watering lawns, watering vegetable gardens, watering local public parks, flushing toilets, washing cars, washing clothes, and consuming vegetables grown with RW. Respondents were randomly assigned one of two levels of water treatment (safe for irrigating plants consumed by humans but not drinkable, and drinkable) and one of two labels for RW (recycled water or treated wastewater). In addition to common socio-economic characteristics, our explanatory variables reflect our respondents’ experience with tap water problems, their knowledge about its source and its cost (if applicable), trust in their water utility (if applicable), expectations/concerns about their tap water, and general environmental attitudes (via the New Ecological Paradigm, NEP). Our generalized ordered models show that the labeling of RW matters: our respondents are significantly less inclined to using “treated wastewater,” especially if it is not drinkable. They are also significantly less favorable to using RW if they are concerned about tap water safety over the long run. The reverse is true for households engaged in recycling and for households who have faced water restrictions over the past five years. Water bill levels, income, and ethnicity typically do not matter. However, women are less inclined to irrigating vegetable with RW or consuming vegetable grown with RW. Moreover, respondents with an education below the college level are concerned about visiting public parks irrigated with RW. Finally, respondents more concerned about the environment (higher NEP scores) are significantly more favorable across the board toward RW. These results suggest avenues for improving household acceptability of RW at a time of increasing water scarcity.