For the many who are clued into the goings-on in the world of the environmentally-friendly, the idea of utilizing graywater is nothing new. We know that a lot of the wastewater from our homes can be used for something else. We know that would lessen our demand on dwindling and ever more polluted freshwater resources.
However, what we might not know is how to get started. Putting in a graywater system can feel like a fairly serious undertaking. In some cases, it is. But, experimenting with it on a smaller scale doesn’t necessarily have to be. For those who are looking to toy with the idea, to make changes incrementally, there are ways to use graywater that don’t require rerouting the entire plumbing set-up of a home.
If there are any curious graywater beginners out there looking to take the next step, here are some thoughts on simple systems to become more familiar with the concept.
What Is Graywater?
When dealing in water recycling, it’s important to differentiate between graywater and blackwater. Graywater is household wastewater that doesn’t have fecal matter, excessive grease or toxins in it. Essentially, for those that use biodegradable soaps, detergents, and cleaning products, it’s everything that doesn’t get flushed down the toilet.
Blackwater is water that has been so contaminated that it can’t be safely used again without serious treatment. This would, for example, be from the contents of a toilet bowl, or it could be from a washing machine cleaning dirty diapers or a garage sink used to clean paintbrushes. This kind of water isn’t safe for graywater systems.
For the most part, sinks, showers, washing machines, and dishwashers are all fair game for use in graywater systems.
Why Use Graywater?
It makes a lot of sense to use graywater. Potable water is increasingly becoming a more valuable commodity on the planet, and many of us are still using it to mop the floor, flush the toilet, and water the lawn. Graywater is often perfectly suitable for performing these tasks, so why would we sully our drinking water to do them?
There are more reasons as well. If we responsibly handle our own graywater at home, we take pressure off of our municipalities to handle it all. We also save money on our water bills by getting double duty out of the water we do use, e.g. the gallon of water used to wash our vegetables for dinner is then used to water the ones still growing in the garden.
How to Get Graywater
The challenging part about using graywater in existing houses is that the plumbing is usually arranged such that it combines graywater and blackwater before they are drained away. Once the two are combined, the entire lot becomes unusable blackwater. In order to change this, a professional plumber or very knowledgeable handyperson will have to reconfigure the house’s pipes.
The simple DIY graywater set up is to disconnect what we can from the main drainage and divert it before it joins the blackwater. This is most easily done with sinks, where the drainage pipe beneath the sink can be disconnected and the sink drained directly into a bucket. It is worth noting that water used in this fashion should be reasonably clean, free of chemical soaps, salt, and oil, which can damage plants.
Where to Use Graywater
The bucket of water in the kitchen can be emptied two or three times throughout the day, either to water trees, shrubs, gardens or the lawn. If there are a lot of food scraps in it, particularly greasier stuff, just pour it into the compost bin. If the sink has been used to rinse vegetables and glass, or perhaps draining pasta, it shouldn’t be a problem. That water is more or less clean, just not necessarily potable.
As for the bathroom sinks, they will likely only require emptying once a day, and that can be done into the toilet tank after a flush so that some graywater, rather than freshwater, is used to fill the tank back up. A really keen person could even save bathwater to do this with.
It is important to note that graywater should not be stored for more than a day. It isn’t pure, so it can develop smells, pathogens, and gunk build-up. If it’s put to use right away, biological systems can clean it safely. In fixed graywater systems, there is a filtration element to help with this.
When It’s Convenient
While this kind of graywater system — the bucket under the sink thing — isn’t necessarily always the most convenient way to handle wastewater, it’s an introduction into just how much graywater we produce daily (US average: 40 gallons per person). If using graywater feels like the right thing, then it can be slowly worked into the infrastructure of a home, which will make it simpler and almost thoughtless day-to-day.
But, we all have to start somewhere.
Lead Image Source: Pixabay
Good article to get started. A system is daunting, but this allows people to start easy, but it should be emphasized that buying environmentally safe cleaning products, soaps and such, is a must.