From Laundry to Landscape: Tap Into Greywater

This article was written by Laura Allen and Cleo Woelfle-Erskine and first appeared on Mother Earth News in 2011 In the United States, the average person uses about 40 gallons of water per day to bathe, wash dishes and clean clothes. Unfortunately, this water almost always goes straight down the drain. But this “greywater” could be put to good use to irrigate fruit trees and other plants. Greywater refers to all used household water except water from toilets, which is called “blackwater.” Historically, state laws have dealt with water from your sink, shower or washing machine in exactly the same way as water from the toilet — it’s all considered sewage that requires treatment. Consequently, home systems that use greywater for irrigation are sometimes illegal.

However, in recent years, greywater activists have been working to change this attitude and the state codes that enforce it. Now, with more than half of U.S. states facing water shortages and the momentum shifting as some states change their codes, we think greywater reuse is coming into the mainstream. Many policymakers are beginning to see greywater as a valuable resource that — with a few simple precautions — can be safely reused in home landscapes.

For decades, greywater has been a boon to gardeners in dry climates, but using greywater has many other benefits in all regions. Greywater use lowers your water bill, and diverting greywater from overloaded or failing septic systems can extend their life. Reusing water saves energy: Greywater irrigation replaces water that would otherwise be treated to drinking water quality, and it also isn’t treated at the sewage treatment plant, saving more energy. And perhaps most importantly, more efficient water use reduces pressure on scarce water resources — especially in the drier parts of the country, where farmers, individual households and wildlife all face the problem of limited water supplies...