Can Grey Save the Day?

You’ve probably noticed that greywater and water recycling is popping up more and more frequently in water discussions. This trend won’t be declining any time soon, as population growth and climate change will continue to put increasing strain on freshwater reserves and availability. As these dynamics continue there will be stronger call to action for greywater reuse or other water recycling practices to become commonplace for everyone from corporations to home owners.

Since water recycling is quickly becoming part of our every day “water vocabulary,” I thought now would be a good time for a little water reuse 101.

What is water recycling? Water recycling is reusing treated wastewater for beneficial purposes such as agricultural and landscape irrigation, industrial processes, toilet flushing. American Water recycles more than 2 billion gallons of water annually and produces water for reuse at more than 39 of our facilities. 

What is greywater? In its most simple definition, greywater is all wastewater generated from a house or business that does not come from toilets. As opposed to sewage, greywater has lower amounts of pathogens but must still be handled carefully as it does contain bacteria and viruses that are released from clothes, during showing, during hand washing, and from washing dishes. Poorly planned and managed greywater systems can be a public health threat to members of your family and to neighbors if not treated properly.

How useable is greywater? While greywater does contain fewer pathogens than sewer water, it must be treated to minimize the potential release of pathogens. Moreover, the longer greywater sits, the more contaminated it becomes. With that said, grey water can be a great source for irrigation (watering lawns and gardens) and for flushing toilets for homeowners. Any use of grey water should be considered hand-in-hand with consultation with the local health department and with a licensed plumber who has experience in greywater treatment.

What about rainwater harvesting? Collecting run-off from a structure or other impervious surface in order to store it for later use has always been a simple and easy way to reuse water. American Water’s new corporate headquarters in Camden, NJ is being designed as LEED Platinum building that will be environmentally friendly and have several energy efficient features including:

  1. Water reuse system leveraging rain water for our building toilets and landscaping
  2. Reduced water usage through low flow toilets, sinks, and showers 

What does the future hold for water recycling? While the collection and reuse of rain water, grey water, and blackwater cannot completely solve the planet’s water scarcity issues, it can be a major player in mitigating demand on freshwater resources. Already in the U.S. water is reused at the rate of approximately 2 billion gallons per day—and that’s no drop in the bucket.