‘Mature discourse’ needed regarding UK water recycling

The first in a series of three seminars to discuss local water recycling and attitudes in the UK was held earlier this week (13 September) at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IoME), London.

The Engineering the Future 2011 Water Series: Local water recycling event, was organised by the Institution of Civil Engineers, the IoME and the Royal Academy of Engineering on behalf of the Engineering the Future alliance, to explore the engineering skills and technologies needed to develop effective solutions to water recycling and security issues in the UK and abroad.

Chair of the event, and global director of Urban Water at Halcrow Group, Michael Norton, said: “Water is the most precious and undervalued natural resource on the planet and it will be up to engineers across the world in future years to protect its use for generations to come.

“This first debate in the series looks at the crucial subject of our attitudes to re-using water, what incentives could be put in place and what countries such as Australia, Japan and Singapore are doing to address the same big questions.”

As part of the event, water industry experts presented on a range of topics including Cranfield University professor of water management Paul Jeffrey, who explored public attitudes and behaviours towards the idea of recycled water in the UK.

Mr Jeffrey told delegates, that although it has been some time since a public study was carried out in the UK on water reuse, many people are averse to water recycling because of an instinctive resistance known as the ‘yuk factor’. And saw this as one of the barriers to progress saying: “a key component to the success of water reuse in the UK is tackling the public’s attitude to water recycling.” He also called for a “mature discourse around water recycling”, pointing out that the UK has less water reuse experience than other countries.

In this vein, Cranfield University head of applied sciences, professor Tom Stephenson, gave an overview of water reuse in Australia, Japan and Singapore, all of which have advanced systems in place to recycle greywater and rainwater. Mr Stephenson suggested the UK needs to introduce a “tax break to make it economic to trial different methods”.

Meanwhile, Cambridge Water managing director, Stephen Kay, provided a supplier insight into local water recycling, which he said: “tends to be a very expensive option”. However, he explained, Cambridge Water is currently running a scheme called the ‘Cambridge Proposition’, a research project which looks at water recycling infrastructure, and how people look after and use their water.

Other speakers included Dr Ben Courtis from GE Power and Water, who discussed national incentives for local water recycling, and Jenny Bashford from the National Farmers Union, who provided insight from an agricultural perspective.

The series of events is set to continue with the next seminar taking place on 25 October to look into water transfer, before the final event on 22 November, which will address behaviour change and demand management.

To find out more visit http://www.raeng.org.uk/

Carys Matthews

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