Monday, September 2, 2013

Graywater Systems: An Excellent Way to Save Water

Graywater Systems: An Excellent Way to Save Water
Article Prepared by: Julie Bowen []

With fall comes a change of season, renewed academic year and a series of environmental events and conferences that help to promote a conscientious attitude towards increasing the use of sustainable resources. With much-anticipated events like the National Protect Your Groundwater Day held on September 10 which will feature an informative live webinar, more and more people are looking for alternatives to guaranteeing the protection and monitoring of earth’s most precious resource. Yet pure, filtered water isn’t the only resource which needs to be considered in the wake of creating sustainable futures. The truth is that there is a way to use and reuse water which isn’t required for drinking, washing, or cooking, and more and more businesses and private homes are looking into it. It’s called graywater.

What is Graywater?
Ever wondered what happens to the water you use to brush teeth, shower and clean clothes? “Graywater” is classified as the wastewater which is left over from these activities, and is either diverted into a separate tank or pipeline for immediate use (the eco-friendly graywater system) or sent to a waste filtration center where it is separated from blackwater which contains human fecal matter. When the graywater is filtered, it is often disposed of in rivers and oceans. In turn, whitewater – pure drinking water – continues to be used for functions like watering lawns, taking up 50 – 80% of the wastewater being washed away in the average household, according to Oasis Design.

The Benefits
Understandably, there are several ways in which graywater can be put to better use which has a positive environmental impact on both a large and individual scale. Overall, implementing a graywater system can:
  • Utilize recycling and filtration of water resources within the home and beyond
  • Significantly reduce the amount of water sources from rivers and aquifers
  • Reduce the impact of filtration processes, such as energy use and chemical contamination
  • Add nutrients to topsoil resulting in increased plant growth, as well as allow freshwater sources to fully replenish and reclaim their nutrients
  • Reduce pollution from septic and treatment plants
  • Allow groundwater and surface water recharge, as well as increase their quality through the natural purification process which is preferable to manufactured treatments
  • Save a considerable sum of costs not only through recycling water, but raising less demand for filtration infrastructures, and enabling those costs to go towards other environmental projects
Given the huge ecological and economical benefits, graywater systems are becoming more integrated into the restructuring of business locations and are essential prerequisites for new ones in Europe and North America. But it’s not just businesses which are seeing the benefits of graywater systems; individual homes and eco-projects have begun a wide movement which is gaining popularity throughout North America; currently, there are approximately 8 million graywater systems in the United States alone.
While facing restrictions in some states such as Colorado, further study of graywater systems has led to some easing of these regulations while maintaining a sturdy health and safety criteria, and most risks can be minimized by ensuring that fecal and toxic substances do not enter the water and that it is used immediately before bacteria has a chance to flourish. For places experiencing a surge in population which do not have the same kind of access to freshwater resources such as the South West, gray water systems could prove to be a very cost-effective model for implementation.

A Brief Guide to How Graywater Systems Work
There are a variety of ways in which graywater systems function from collecting rainwater via strategic run-offs or containers, to the more sophisticated systems which help to filter out the water and return it to the ecosystem. Some industrial systems even use the force of flowing graywater to heat whitewater, known as graywater heat recovery or hot water heat recycling. For home use, it usually requires a cleaning tank and a control mechanism which can detect whether or not the water has been stored too long thereby flushing it away, while in more sophisticated systems it uses settling tanks and sand filters for the removal of solids and pathogens. It can also be distributed not only back to toilet cisterns for flushing, but also for irrigation which can be installed manually.

A Few Things to Factor In
It’s always a good idea to check the requirements for installing graywater systems which vary from state to state, as well as taking into consideration the health of the surrounding ecosystem. It’s also important to consider how much the installation can cost, which ranges from the hundreds to the thousands, depending upon the complexity and breadth of the system.

Although the return on the money is huge, the most important aspect is the reusing and recycling of the water itself, which in turn will benefit the environment as more nutrients and less contaminants are redistributed back into the soil. This also results in an improvement in the health of plants, wildlife, and people, who are able to enjoy water which has not been over-sterilized with harmful quantities of chemicals such as chlorine and fluoride. In 2009, the New York Times released an article detailing some of the health conditions of people affected by legal yet harmful chemicals found in water used for filtration. Not only does this present a risk to the health of individual people, but it places urban areas – which deal with high quantities of waste thus increasing the need for filtration – as high risk areas which are more subject to higher insurance premiums. As it turns out, the zip code – as well as condition, age, gender and other factors – is just as much a component of finding efficient coverage. By minimizing the use of chemicals in filtration through various means which include the use of graywater systems, the effects on health is reduced, thus the coverage required to treat them on a small to larger scale has a chance of regulating itself.

Other Resources
There is a vast plethora of information on the web spanning numerous regions across the globe, including charity programs in Africa to DIY-style graywater installations in Australia. Build It Solar is an excellent source which lists several websites – including Greywater Action – which covers a whole range of DIY projects and more, as well as explaining the intricacies of each system and how it can be implemented.

There are several different ways to reuse graywater, and most of these can be simply done in any household as long as the incentive is there. Its growing popularity, safe measure under regulation, large savings and most importantly, highly-beneficial impact on the ecosystem, are just a few reasons why rethinking what goes down the drain is one of the best ways to promote a cleaner, healthier future for everyone.


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