Not All Wastewater is Created Equally
An at-home gray water treatment plant can take wastewater and turn it into something usable again. There are steps that you can take to cut back on water waste that goes beyond getting a plumber in to fix a leaky faucet. With the right system in place, you can save money if you are one of the 90 million Americans that pay for their water. Of course, it is also an environmentally responsible thing to do.
Utilizing “gray” water can absolutely help with conservation efforts. Gray water is wastewater, sort of. When you hear wastewater you are likely thinking, and rightfully so that cannot be safe drinking water or safe for anything water, but it can be. A simple gray water treatment plant at home can transform “gray” water into water that can be used for a wide range of activities and most importantly to help you cut down on water usage.
Water, Water Everywhere and Not a Drop to Drink
There are some scary statistics out there when it comes to our ability to access fresh clean water. When Wall Street starts investing in aquifers, people should take notice. There is a market for “water commodities” that people can invest in. That should tell you how precious this resource is.
Unfortunately, water is wasted at incredible levels. People are investing in water because it is such a scarce valued resource, yet, gallons and gallons flow down the sink into the sewer and the septic system.
There are some very dire predictions not only globally but right here in the US about the decline in access to freshwater sources. According to the EPA, there are currently 40 states that are facing potential water shortages by 2024. It is very important that we all do our part.
It is estimated that the average American wastes about 180 gallons of water per week. The average American family uses 300 gallons per day, about 30% of that is dedicated to landscape use, other outdoor activities, and to care for flowers and plants.
Gray water is an exceptional option for landscaping needs and to care for your garden plants. That would mean that you would cut down your water waste by 30% each day.
Taking small steps, of course, can make a difference but a few large steps will make an even larger difference. If everyone considered the power of the water that is wasted every day, we could make a huge dent in water conservation.
Gray water is used water, but it is not sewer water. Gray water falls in that “gray area” between fresh drinking water and black water containing actual human waste. Black water is water that must be chemically treated with powerful chemicals to be recycled before it can be used.
Gray water can come from your washing machine, kitchen sinks, finishing tools, bathtubs, or other appliances. Think of it as a way to recycle the water that you are currently using to get more use out of it. Instead of washing bathwater down the drain you can collect it and use it to water houseplants.
About 65% of household water waste is gray water. That means 65% of what you are paying for winds up in the sewer system or your septic tank unnecessarily when it could be doing great things for your garden.
There are a few steps that you will need to take to create a gray water treatment plant at home, but they are well worth the time investment. You will be able to save on costs and do something good for the environment.
Creating Your Own Gray Water Treatment Plant
First, you must determine which water is safe to use for gray water activities. Obviously, if you have the need for drain cleaning, you cannot use that water but if you can hook up your washing machine to drain into a rain barrel you certainly can use that water. (see below for What is Not Gray Water)
Before you start collecting gray water you want to be sure that you switch to cleaners, body soap, shampoo, and laundry detergent that is safe for plants and landscaping. Once you have made the switch it is time to start collecting.
Investing in a rain barrel or two or an actual gray water tank (if you can afford it) is a great idea, but if you can’t that is okay too. You can absolutely use any vessel to hold your gray water for use outside. Here are a few ways you can collect your water:
· Buckets -Place a bucket inside the shower while you are bathing. It will not catch every drop of water, but it will catch a lot of what would have wound up down the drain. A 5-gallon plastic bucket is a great option.
· Use a big bowl in the sink or a basin. When you must wash dishes, use the basin instead of letting the water run down the drain. If you must wash your hands in the sink be sure the bowl of the basin is catching that water. When you are washing fruits or vegetables off use the basin, or the bowl, to catch the water.
· Reuse drinking water for house plants or keep a bucket handy so that you can pour unused drinking water right into the receptacle.
· Set your washing machine up to be a landscaping hose. You can easily divert your wastewater from the washing machine into the garden. You can do this with a t-valve and some piping, or you can simply connect the waste pipe right to a rain barrel.
· You do not want to store your used water for more than 24 hours, because the particles that are left in the used water could start to get a little stinky after a little while. Gray water can turn to black water very quickly. Use it as soon as possible.
· Keep it simple. You could build an elaborate system for your gray water treatment, but it is largely not necessary and just gives you more parts to worry about.
· Don’t let your gray water pool or sit uncovered in a barrel. It will become a breeding ground for mosquitoes and other insects.
You can get fancy and use pantyhose as a water filtration system to catch any large particles in your used water before you sprinkle it on the garden, but it is not necessary. Most gently used water has some grease, some food particles, some soap residue, and some human hairs but none of that will hurt your landscape or your plants.
Some people have disconnected the elbow in their sink and place a bucket under the pipe to catch the water, but you do have to be diligent if you choose this method. You will have to constantly check the bucket to see if it is full or you will risk water damage to your floors.
What is Not Gray Water
Any water that has been used to process chemicals is not gray water. Water that has been used to clean paint brushes and other solvents is not considered gray water and cannot be recycled safely. If you have a hobby that includes the use of solvents or chemicals, the water that you use cannot be recycled.
The safest way to utilize this system is to strictly use water that comes from sources that have not been contaminated with chemicals or harsh solvents. When in doubt, throw it out. If you are uncertain about whether water can be recycled or not, it is always best to err on the side of caution until you get some expert input.
The Benefits to Your Landscaping and Backyard Eco-System
Many communities are so concerned about water waste they have limits in place to ensure that no one is using more water than they should. Some communities only allow watering the yard on certain days, unfortunately, during hot dry spells when the regulation is enforced the most, it is when your plants need the water the most.
Having all the water that you need to take care of your landscape and plants, and do it guilt-free is a great opportunity. Your backyard ecosystem will flourish when there is enough water to go around. Plants that are normally neglected will get the water that they need to flourish.
Upgrades to Your Gray Water Treatment Plant
Once you get the hang of things and get used to using your water for multi-purposes you can really get creative and use your sink water to flush your toilets. Instead of using buckets to collect used water, you can pipe it straight outdoors and create your own garden irrigation system with it.
These are lofty goals that require quite a bit of DIY activity and a much larger investment than a few vessels and some piping alone might require but little by little there is no reason that you could not send your gray water straight outside instead of down the sewer or into the septic.
There Are Plants That You Should NOT Use Gray Water On
Root plants that are not cooked before consuming, should not be watered with this type of water. Seedlings or new growth also should not be watered using gray water until growth is established. Take a few simple precautions will help to ensure that your plants and landscaping is safe.
Feel free to use gray water on your lawn, ornamental plants, vegetable plants, and fruit trees in order to improve your landscaping. When you are applying this water try to infiltrate the ground with it instead of water from the top of the plant.
The Million Dollar Question
Can you treat gray water so that it can be used as drinking water is one of the most common questions about this water. The fact is you could treat it to use as drinking water, but it is strongly discouraged unless it’s an emergency and you do not have access to clean drinking water.
This type of water is easier to clean up than brackish water, but it is a process. You can use chemicals or boiling and filtering techniques to make this water potable. ‘
Disposal of Gray Water
Many states, cities, and towns have regulations regarding disposing of gray water. In almost all cases you cannot simply dump it on the ground. Some states consider kitchen sink water to be black water. To be on the safe side you should contact the governing body for your area and ask what the regulations are.
Safe disposal methods are in place to ensure that groundwater does not become contaminated with solvents and other particles found in gray water. Let’s say you are recycling water in your home and you go on vacation, that means whatever water you have on hand should be used before you go or you will have to dispose of it when you get back.
It is a good idea to become familiar with all your state’s gray water rules. Some states are very strict not only about what you need to do to dispose of the water but how you can use the water, to begin with. Understanding the rules will help you to make informed decisions about your treatment program.
Some states will require that you treat used water before you dispose of it. it is always best to understand those regulations that you are expected to comply with.
Tap into The Available Resources
The EPA is a great resource for learning more about water conservation and recycling water. There are tons of other resources available online that can also be useful. There are some innovative ideas out there that you can duplicate to recycle water. With a little bit of ingenuity and some commitment, you can be a success.
You will have to make some lifestyle changes, but it is well worth it. Within a short period of adopting these practices, it will simply become second nature to reuse your water.