SHADES OF GREYWATER
Backyard & Garden Design Ideas|Issue #17.5
Learning how to use greywater opens up even more water-conserving opportunities
KAREN SUTHERLAND

In many households, greywater is a large and untapped resource. Reusing at least some of your waste water on site fits in with permaculture principles, reducing your impact on the environment as no resources are being used to process it off-site. For the many areas of Australia that have been in drought for years, with garden water availability either limited or curtailed, greywater may be the only way to have a garden.

Of course, there are caveats. The regulations governing the use of greywater vary considerably, so check with your local council to make sure its use is permitted in your area. Some areas allow diverted greywater to be used; others only greywater that has been through an approved treatment system. Also, remember that greywater should not be used if there is no need for irrigation normally.

Another commonly asked question is whether greywater can be used on veggies, herbs or fruit trees. The answer lies in gaining an understanding of what greywater is and how it can be safely used.

WHAT EXACTLY IS GREYWATER?

Greywater is waste water from the laundry and bathroom (that is, the bath, shower, handbasin or final rinse of the washing machine). The toilet is classified as black water and in Australia, kitchen waste water is also usually classified as black water. It’s not advisable to reuse the water from hand basins and laundry troughs (unless it’s been treated) as it contains many substances not suitable for gardens.

An often overlooked resource is the water saved while warming up the shower, washing fruit and vegetables before eating and vegetable and pasta-cooking water. It is possible to save at least 20 litres of this water a day for reuse on pots, herbs and vegetables and this amount can keep a small vegetable patch alive. The water from rinsing soap from clean dishes is also suitable for use in this way.

Just make sure the buckets collecting this aren’t also used to collect greywater. You should keep a separate bucket in the house for collecting this water; let’s call it second-hand water. Keep a couple of buckets for storage at your back door and a watering can for giving it to your vegetable patch or pots. Using it at the end of each day avoids it becoming stagnant.

If your water needs are great, you may need to consider using your kitchen washing-up water sometimes. If you do, make sure to avoid any oils or fats in the wash (wipe them off beforehand with a paper towel) and use the least amount of the simplest, gentlest detergent possible. Do not use washing water from a meal containing animal products and let the water cool before putting it on the garden.

To help make saving this water a routine thing, sit a flexible plastic trough in your sink. After you’ve done your dishes, scoop water out with a plastic jug into two buckets and then, when you’re evenly balanced, you can take your waste water out onto the garden. The last bit can be poured out from the flexible trough.

CAN GREYWATER BE USED SAFELY?

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