Thursday, March 25, 2010

Greywater reuse is a very eco-friendly solution

The most efficient way to become sustainable is to reduce. Reduce what you use, what you buy, what you consume, what you waste, what you wear, etc. The second most efficient way is to reuse what you already have.  Fix a shirt instead of buying a new one. Use a broken plate in a mosaic project.  Throw paper towels in the composter. Stack excess project lumber in the garage for your next project. Reuse water by routing greywater (semi-clean water) the garden.

We've been interested in greywater reuse for some time now and have recently done a bit of research. Greywater is a term that means using household water for bathing and washing and then reusing that water to irrigate the landscape or filter it. (This does not include toilet water, although some greywater systems can filter shower water on site and then reuse the water in flush toilets.) There are many variations of implementing such a system and there are many benefits to greywater reuse. 

Here are the two most important benefits:
  • Soil, natural bacteria, and plants combined will naturally filter and breakdown soaps, washing solids, and chemicals. Some will even thrive on it. It is nature's way of purifying water.
  • Most suburbanites use 40-50% of household water on outside irrigation. This means you could reliably cut at least 40% of the water your household currently consumes by reusing what was used in the house.

Once you can calculate the reduction of water used in your household, you can realize the other benefits. Your household will contribute to 40% less water waste - that means 40% more clean water for you later. You will pay for 40% less for water treatment and 40% less for water pumping to your house. Think what would happen if everyone in your neighborhood followed this trend - water could cost you 40% less than you are currently paying. Some of these costs might be obvious on your monthly water bill, but some might be hidden costs in your MUD taxes, local taxes, and even in your Home Owners Association fees.

When we first heard the term and started seriously considering greywater reuse, I thought this was a new idea. With new technology, plastics, and plumbing, we could start a revolution, right? Well... actually, greywater reuse has been around forever. Water used to wash clothes or vegetables would then be routed to the crops. My grandmother's shower plumbing watered both her orange trees and her flower garden.

So why the aversion to greywater? I think part of the problem is that we are living in the antibacterial age. Antibacterial, sterile, pasteurized, nonfat, low sugar, and homogenized. One hundred years ago, healthy living included raw/whole foods, fermentation (think wine and yogurt), and natural ways of reusing raw materials and resources. People often have misplaced fears of bacteria - not all bacteria is bad, most bacteria is good because it helps your body breakdown compounds in your digestive system, it is what makes leaves turn to compost, and it is what makes grape juice turn to wine.

When in doubt, look around you at how mother nature handles the problem. Water will always flow downhill, so route greywater down and away from the house. Water will always soak in and through the surface level material, so make sure the soil absorbing the water is healthy and teaming with natural organisms because those are the items that will breakdown the detergents and solids in the water.

The New Create an Oasis with Greywater: Choosing, Building and Using Greywater Systems - Includes Branched DrainsWe've read a lot of material just lately on greywater reuse, and there are lots of videos on the topic. Almost all of them have, at one point or another, referenced the greywater documentation by Art Ludwig. When I finally got my hands on the books, I was blown away by the sheer knowledge and vast researched this guy has done. Even if you are not considering installing a greywater system, I highly recommend reading this set of books for the ecological content.  He really understands the mechanical systems as well as the natural systems.