Penalising system & NEWater

For a water-scarce nation like Singapore, to be singled out for praise in United Nations (UN) fourth edition of the World Water Development Report is feat not many countries can boast. Singapore’s water conservation program has been a relative success till date. Based on latest finding, Singapore’s per capita domestic water consumption has decreased from 165 litres from 2003 to 154 litres in 2011 (Eco Business, 2012). There are two main strategies adopted by our national water agency PUB – The water pricing strategy and practice of recycling waste.

The water pricing strategy

PUB implements a penalising system whereby heavy users are charged at a higher rate. A water conservation tax is also imposed whereby the tax is calculated as a percentage of total water consumption.

Practice of recycling waste

Without a doubt, NEWater is the best example of how Singapore recycles our waste water. Currently NEWater accounts for 30% of Singapore’s water sources. The republic is also on track to water self-sufficiency by 2061. By then, NEWater will contribute up to 80% of our water supply.

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Importance and relevance of the water conservation strategies

PUB’s penalising system and water conservation tax exemplify how a government agency can implement disincentives to discourage wasteful behaviours. With more water usage, users have to fork out more money. Such strategies utilise the concept of prospect theory, as it deters people from wasting water by informing them what they have more to lose (in this case, money).

There are three possible factors to explain the success of Singapore’s water sustainability effort. They are curtailment, behavioural choice and technology choice.


To put it simply, curtailment is the use of fewer resources. PUB’s strategies of penalising system, water conservation tax and video advertisements seem to be effective in curtailing Singaporeans’ water consumption. This is because people are generally more driven by short term incentives (like savings) and disincentives (like taxes).

Behavioural and technology choice

Both behavioural and technology choice aptly sum up Singapore’s NEWater revolution. Singapore’s NEWater revolution signifies our behavioural choice to move towards water self-sufficiency, rather than being dependent on Malaysia for water. Of course, such move may be both environmentally and politically driven. However to accomplish such green revolution required Singapore’s investment in technologies.


Extensive results showed that NEWater quality to be well within the USEPA and WHO drinking water standards (PUB, 2011). Despite the fact, some Singaporeans may still be aversive to drinking recycled water. This could be due to their psychological barriers. It is relatively difficult to use facts to counter one’s attitude and emotion in such situations.


100 ways to save water: