Skip to main content
SLU publication database (SLUpub)

Research article2023Peer reviewedOpen access

Legitimacy of source-separating wastewater systems with Swedish water utilities

McConville, Jennifer R.; Kvarnstro, Elisabeth; Aliahmad, Abdulhamid; Lennartsson, Maria


Nutrient management is one of the critical challenges for developing sustainable circular economies in cities. Nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus from our food end up in our wastewater and pose an environmental threat when they are released in waterways. Yet, these nutrients are essential for crop production and food security. Hince human excreta contains the bulk of nutrients going through the urban ecosystem. Source separation of excreta from the rest of urban wastewater flows can enable safe and efficient nutrient recovery. Yet, source-separating wastewater systems are not yet common in urban areas. The aim of this study is to assess the legitimacy of source-separating wastewater systems from the perspective of wastewater professionals in Sweden. The study uses interviews and a survey to explore the pragmatic, normative, cognitive and regulatory dimensions of legitimacy and how these aspects can vary between different municipalities. Finally, it looks into possible knowledge-based activities to increase legitimacy. The results from this study show variations in legitimacy levels in urban areas in Sweden. Overall opinion appears to be neutral to the concept rather than negative. Although many see multiple barriers to implementation. Normative legitimacy (moral motivation) was relatively high, while cognitive legitimacy (knowledge & experiences) was lowest. Respondents from organizations where source-separation is being implemented, or they believe that it will be implemented within 10 years, generally saw more drivers and fewer barriers. These innovators were also more interested in knowledge-based activities. Overall recommendations to increase cognitive knowledge regarding source-separating systems among multiple stakeholders seems the most promising path forward to increase legitimacy in the Swedish wastewater sector.


Acceptance; Drivers and barriers; Blackwater; Urine; Diffusion of innovation; Sanitation

Published in

Journal of Environmental Management
2023, Volume: 347, article number: 119108