Ching, Leong (2016, November). The role of emotions in drinking recycled water. Water, 8, 548. 18 pp. (doi:10.3390/w8110548) (open access, available:

Abstract: As global freshwater supplies shrink, recycled drinking water (RDW) has become an increasingly important source of water supply. However, RDW remains an underinvested resource despite being a safe and reliable source of water. The dominant hypothesis is that RDW has been rejected 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. It tests two specific hypotheses. First, that negative emotions affect the policy process through a negative “goal definition” of the problem, making it unattractive to stakeholders. Second, the emotional quality of policies can be manipulated by policy entrepreneurs. These hypotheses are tested on two cases of RDW—one failed and the other successful. It finds that narratives in the former are relatively low in emotional intensity, with themes such as sustainability and governance, whereas the second case displays narratives charged with anger, social injustice, and disgust. This emphasizes the role of narratives, especially when visceral reactions such as disgust and anger interact with larger social and political discourses. Finally, we offer policy implications on how understanding the role of emotions can help in the implementation of RDW.

Leong Ching <> is with the Institute of Water Policy, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore.

Leave a Reply