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New perspectives on recycled water

Last month five Australian Young Water Professionals travelled to Denmark to participate in the 2017 UNLEASH Innovation Lab, and one has returned with a greater interest in how water recycling can help address urban sustainability issues.

Dr Casey Furlong, from RMIT’s Centre for Urban Research, participated in the eight-day international event aimed at exploring the world’s biggest challenges and potential solutions.

Teamed up with a diverse array of international peers, Furlong said it was enriching to rethink his passion for recycled water from different perspectives.

“The problem my team was looking at was how to address psychological and political barriers to drinking recycled water. The solution we came up with was really interesting,” Furlong said.

“We ended up moving the idea into a space I hadn't thought of before, which was how to address this problem at an international scale, rather than just at a national or city scale.”

Furlong and his team made it into the top 12 in the water stream for their solution, which involved an integrated international-scale campaign of high-profile endorsements, public messaging toolkits, and an accreditation and monitoring system for reuse facilities.

Furlong said he came out of the program with a new perspective on how to solve the global water crisis.

“The solutions we were encouraged to come up with were very much innovation ideas – things that sounded flashy or with a business opportunity. There wasn’t a lot of interest in what I see as being the most important part of the global water crisis, which is around the boring stuff: regulation, governance, policy, plans and infrastructure,” Furlong said.

“There was no interest in the bread and butter of what water management actually is, and how you can improve the global water situation. In the water field, I really believe it’s the boring stuff that can save us. So we better start getting excited about it.”

Furlong said he was very proud of his team’s solution and believes if international bodies were more involved in sharing information about the safety and benefits of potable reuse, there would be more progress towards sustainable water policy across the world.

“If we could get an international consensus on the issue and an international body putting a bit of pressure on governments to at least start talking about it, many cities across the world could save billions of dollars on desalination plants, increase water security and decrease pollution,” Furlong said.

“Non-potable water reuse through third-pipe systems is less efficient than potable reuse: you need to duplicate the water supply storages, pipes and pumps, and you end up recycling way less water, especially in winter when recycled water supply is high but non-potable demands for outdoor uses are low.”

Furlong said with other countries embracing potable water reuse, Australia should at least be discussing the potential for it here.

“Potable water reuse has become the norm in Singapore since about 2002, where it now meets up to 10% of potable demands. A large-scale reservoir augmentation scheme is under development in San Diego, California. It’s time for Australia to start talking about this again,” he said.

“In Australia we have not yet done the studies to work out how much money we could save, or the potential environmental benefits to waterways and bays. But in terms of technology, public health, and community perceptions, if they can do it in San Diego then why can’t we do it here?”

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