Let’s talk greywater

What is greywater and why use it

Greywater is a great option for your garden watering because most people have a plentiful supply, it doesn’t rely on rainfall or vary much with seasons and it reduces your reliance on potable (drinking quality) water.

All the water that comes out of the tap is top quality drinking water, but not all of the activities that we use water for around the house need drinkable water. Greywater is the used water from the bathroom, laundry and kitchen. It doesn’t include water from the kitchen sink or from toilets (known as black water).

Using greywater for flushing toilets or on your garden is a great way of being water efficient but make sure you seek professional advice in doing so as it may contain disease causing organisms. If it isn’t done properly things can go very wrong. The general advice is not to store greywater for any length of time but to use it immediately for its purpose, ie: put it straight on the garden.

Water can be recycled from your shower and washing machine but because it contains some bacteria, detergents, cleaning agents and waste material, it isn’t suitable for all garden uses. The preference for greywater sources to use in the garden is based on the quality of the water and possible chemicals in it. Use the vegetable rinse water first, then bath and shower water, then laundry rinse water and laundry wash water last.

Other uses for Greywater relate to treated greywater and include industrial uses, washing vehicles, flushing toilets and other uses that do not require high quality water.

Using greywater on your garden

Like most things, what you get out of greywater depends on what you put in. As you know gardens are living things and the chemicals and bacteria we add to greywater can have short and long effects on your garden and indirectly your health. Fortunately most impacts can be addressed by being careful about what you add to greywater and being careful about how you store, treat and use greywater. Because greywater is associated with health risks, it is usually applied to the garden below ground or at least under mulch.

One of the potential impacts of greywater is increasing salt content. This has a long term impact on the soil structure in your garden and is very difficult to fix later on. Common sense tells us to avoid concentrating greywater in one area of your garden, avoid putting too much on and monitor the health of your plants and the state of the soil where you use greywater.

Having given you the warnings many gardeners have really enjoyed being able to recycle their home water in such a rewarding way. A little seaweed solution added in with greywater can act as a gentle fertilizer. You might also note that the phosphates in most soaps will not be appreciated by your native plants but the lawn usually loves them!

Working safely with greywater

There are a number of do’s and don’ts to be taken into account when installing and using a greywater system:

  • Use a licensed plumber to install any greywater system
  • Use low risk sources for water such as bath, shower and laundry rinse water (Laundry wash water is much higher in detergent concentrations than rinse water)
  • Be aware of biodegradable labelled products (e.g. soaps and detergents). Liquid based products are generally better (check the ingredients on the packaging). Select garden-friendly detergents that are biodegradable and low in phosphorus, sodium, boron and chloride (select liquid washing detergents, as they are comparatively low in salts)
  • Use untreated greywater from the washing of nappies or soiled clothing
    Use untreated greywater when a resident is ill
  • Use untreated greywater generated by cleaning in the laundry or bathroom, or when using hair dye or other chemicals
  • Use untreated greywater generated by washing rags used for painting or for maintaining machinery
  • Use kitchen water for greywater as it is heavily contaminated with fats, greases and solids
  • Apply untreated greywater to vegetable gardens or fruit trees
  • Use water from toilets for greywater
  • Use treated greywater to top up rainwater tanks or swimming pools
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