Mitigating Stigma Associated with Recycled Water: Aquifer Recharge and Trophic Levels

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Department of Applied Economics and Statistics, University of Delaware, Newark, DE.
Stigmatization of water and food products can constrain markets and prevent the implementation of scientifically safe solutions to environmental problems, such as water scarcity. Recycled water can be a cost-effective, dependable, and safe solution to water shortages, however, consumers generally either require a large reduction in price to purchase and eat products made with recycled water or reject such products outright. If emerging sustainable agricultural technologies, such as recycled water are to be used to address growing water shortages worldwide, policymakers and industry stakeholders must identify effective strategies for mitigating stigma. Using field experiments involving 1,420 adult participants, we test the effectiveness of two stigma-mitigating techniques. We also successfully demonstrate a novel twist to the collection of representative samples in non-hypothetical experimental settings and compare the results to a more traditional field experiment that recruited participants at a large public gathering. The analysis of these different samples suggests a common finding: passing recycled water through a natural barrier, such as an aquifer, removes the stigma consumers would otherwise attach to it. We also find that the trophic level an organism occupies in the food chain influences stigmatizing behavior. The greater the steps in the food chain between an organism and the use of recycled water, the less it is stigmatized. These results have important implications for efforts to promote large-scale potable and non-potable recycled water projects and the use of recycled water in the agricultural industry.
Stigma, Recycled water, Aquifer recharge, Trophic levels