Discussion of public reactions to water recycling is now framed around the idea of a ‘yuck factor’: advocates tend to assume an emotional response is the primary determinant of people's attitudes to reuse and they despair of people accepting rational arguments on its merits. Academic and consultancy work in the area has been dominated by particular work from social psychology: theories of disgust, models of attitude causation, and psychometric methods for measuring attitudes and determining the influences on them. This paper questions the models, their assumptions, the methods used to apply and validate them, their implications for change, and the practical consequences of framing the problem this way. It suggests that more fruitful explanations and more effective public engagement both require a shift to a more sociological and cultural explanation, one that examines users’ practices around the sociotechnical systems of providing water and handling waste. The paper concludes there are no compelling arguments or evidence that negative reactions to recycled water cannot change with opportunities to learn about the issues; indeed deliberative consultation mechanisms are essential if people are to reach an informed, reasoned and robust evaluation of the option. The ‘yuck’ discourse is of limited value in explaining public responses and counterproductive in formulating strategies for increasing public support.

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