The Ghost in the Machine: Trust and Technology in the Water Recycling Debate

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In January 2007, the Premier of Queensland triggered significant community debate with his decision to introduce recycled water to South East Queensland’s drinking supply. As there is currently no formal water recycling in Australia, this research explored public perceptions via a random postal survey of 410 directly affected residents (21% response rate) living in the Pine Rivers Shire of Brisbane, Queensland. This paper focuses on participant’s responses to the open-ended question, “what, if any, concerns do you have about using treated recycled water for drinking purposes?”. Using the Public Acceptability of Controversial Technologies (PACT) framework as a conceptual guide, the 178 responses were thematically coded into the three key pillars of PACT: technology (n=125; 70%), constituents (n=21, 12%) and context (n=28, 9%). Thematic analysis revealed that the majority of residents expressed concerns about the technology, specifically that they had insufficient knowledge about the technological processes, the long-term effects on health and the possibility of human error. Residents questioned why recycled water was the first option and felt that other alternatives, such as mandatory grey-water systems and water-saving devises for consumers and industry, should have been explored further. As the first study to explicitly ask Australians directly affected by water recycling about their concerns, the findings highlight how limited knowledge and trust in the technology was the key barrier to acceptance.


Keywords: Water Recycling, Public Perceptions, Public Acceptability of Controversial Technologies, Australia,
Stream: Social Sustainability
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: Ghost in the Machine, The


Maree Heffernan

Senior Researcher, Centre for Social Change Research, Queensland University of Technology
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Maree is a Senior Research Officer with the Centre for Social Change Research whose research interests can be categorised under the broad umbrella of social justice. Recent projects she has been involved in include Iindigenous women's health, women, housing and homelessness, early intervention strategies for youth-at-risk and school reform, the development of social capital in differing communities and investigating new technologies and their role in supporting isolated individuals and communities.

Dr. Evonne Miller

Postdoctoral Fellow, Centre for Social Change Research
Humanities & Human Services, Queensland University of Technology

Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Evonne Miller is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Centre for Social Change Research. Her research expertise is in the area of applied social psychology, specialising in social sustainability, social gerontology, community engagement and behaviour change.

Prof. Laurie Buys

Director, Centre for Social Change Research, Queensland University of Technology
Brisbane, QLD, Australia

Laurie Buys is Director of the Centre for Social Change Research. Her research interests include social gerontology (retirement villages, older drivers & older people with disabilities) and social sustainability (sustainable resource use, social impact assessment & community engagement).

Dr. Barbara Adkins

Senior Lecturer, Centre for Social Change Research, Queensland University of Technology
Brisbane, QLD, Australia

Dr Barbara Adkins is a sociologist, whose research interests include sociocultural aspects of interaction and urban design, creative work
disability, education, urban development and housing, and university/community engagement.

Ref: S08P0003