As commonly known, one of the crucial aspects in household infrastructures is the wastewater management. Its potential impact on the society cannot be questioned as it can significantly influence diverse sectors, including public health, manufacturing, agriculture and mining. Nevertheless, wastewater, or more specifically, sewerage, is viewed as a taboo topic in numerous cultures. In other words, it is usually ignored by people, which can be revealed by the knowledge of people on water. As proven by a recently undertaken survey by the MBR Site, most citizens do not know that wastewater is not be discharged without being treated. They take for granted that they can receive clean water once opening the taps and that wastewater should disappear in their pipes. On the other hand, little do they know about how expensive and complex the system delivering such service is. This generally results in insufficient public investment both socially and financially. The question is how can social network evoke a social change in order to raise the public responsibility and awareness. One solution that can be sought is to improve the relevant knowledge of people. The most effective way to achieve this is through early education in schools. However, this solution can directly impact only the younger part of population. The optimal way to improve the knowledge of young adults and the rest of the population is through engaging them.
It is not easy to create engagement, since wastewater management is an “unpleasant” topic. Most people appear to be disgusted when mentioning the word ‘effluent’. Campaigns on traditional media chatter enormous information and guilt-ridden rules regarding what can and cannot be done, which usually results in public resistance. For example after the Australian wastewater infrastructure system was upgraded and repaired strictly, customers of wastewater and water are usually amazed at and reflectively reject new fees and charges. Consequently, they are unable or unwilling to pay higher charges for services they have been rightly accustomed to. Due to those expectations, garden watering restrictions are issued by the Water Corporation company. Even though most citizens might be willing to abide by these restrictions, some people feel enraged for their god-endowed right of wasting water as much as they think necessary is deprived by the government.
Sewer system aging has always been a major challenge in the wastewater infrastructure. In Australia, household waste from laundry, bathroom and kitchen, needless to say contents in chamber pots, are poured to open drains, which then flow into channels under streets and ultimately into local creeks and rivers. The infrastructure of open drain can not meet the needs. Hence, thousands of pollutants caused by common products are washed down and then discharged into wastewater system every year, chemical components within pollutants will trigger sewer some issues like system demand, wrinkles and stress, our sewer system is suffering because of it. To increase customer engagement, an American service provider has adopted a proactive method via a creative media campaign, in an attempt to address this issue. Slogans like “Your #2 is my #1” were displayed in advertisements placed by San Francisco Water Power Sewer in public transportation buses across the city. Under the multicultural social background, the advertisements have been translated and demonstrated in different languages. Such a humorous method was popular and enhanced the perception of the public on the authority. When people’s attention has been grasped by an entertaining or interesting slogan, it is possible to take follow-up actions and further spread information, so as to improve people’s knowledge or practices about which products are discharged into the sewer. This has played a good role in promoting the sense of personal responsibility and arousing public awareness.
Moreover, engaging the citizens in the wastewater treatment process can help achieve further improvements. This includes defining the wastewater infrastructure as the base for public health and safety. This method is adopted by the Brightwater sewage treatment plant, which is situated out of Seattle. The quantity of wastewater treated by the facility amounts to 135 million litres each day; whereas it completes treatment with zero odour by virtue of modern technology. Water is supplied to a reconstructed salmon habitat after treatment, where there are trails, gardens and landscaped ponds with an area of 70 acres. By this way, the operator is allowed to promote the place as an eco-conscious tourist destination. Both social investment and public engagement can be improved through the interpretive centre, the desired wedding venue and the education facility, which in turn brings extra income stream.
In addition, most people view social media as the basic source to new information. An organisation that intends to reach particular audience’s needs shall choose a channel favoured by that same audience. As a result, hashtags are helpful to identify which trend contributes to a novel dynamic and what people are discussing on social media. The hashtags have evolved so much that they have become a tool for building brand images. By strategically employing tools of social media, organisations could encourage the actions and the adoption of the behaviours in communities; and simple hashtags are an easy but effective solution to realise this purpose. Therefore, the discussion of Hashtags not only helps to improve the public’s sense of self-responsibility and social responsibility, but also has the supervisory role, social platforms would have countless eyes on you, which achieve more win-win outcomes. The water crisis in Flint, Michigan is good example. As water treatment was insufficient, lead leaked into drinking water from pipes of lead water. At that time, #FlintWaterCrisis was a hashtag triggering drastic online discussion. The hashtag alone was mentioned by almost millions of posts. Forced by public opinion, enterprises started to help residents in Flint temporarily by delivering drinking water to the affected region. Meanwhile, the local government had to contribution update some of aging wastewater infrastructure. Never underestimate the power of social media which increased public awareness. 6 years later 2020 new media still being reported about:
Bipartisan Policy Center 2017, Understanding America’s Water and Wastewater Challenges. Available from: https://bipartisanpolicy.org/report/understanding-americas-water-and-wastewater-challenges/.