Conserving Resources: Grey Water Recycling

October 5th, 2008

Fall is upon us.  This time of year as the air grows colder, we are easily reminded that our homes may not be as energy efficient as we would like.  This fall we will be discussing the many ways to male our homes and lives more effiecient and less wasteful .


As those of you who were at our January “green Resolutions” meeting know, one of my goals this year was to start reusing our grey water in the yard.  Well, summer  has passed and I am no closer then I was then at this time last year.  For anyone else out there who has also thought about committing to conserving water while beautifying your surroundings, I hope that you will find this information helpful.  This makes a great fall or winter project.   When you are itching to get back into the garden, but it still or too early (or too late )to do anything worthwhile – this is a great way to prepare for the Spring and Summer.  When the time comes for planting, and water , we will already have a system in place.  So here are some basics that I have found.  Please comment with your ideas, questions, or plans.


What is greywater? 

Greywater is the water that goes down plug 

holes inside the house. This is distinct from 

the ‘brown’ or ‘black’ water from toilet 

flushing and the storm water that flows off 

rooftops and streets into gutters and storm 

water drains.   


Kitchen waste water is generally not 

recommended for reuse as it tends to 

contain high levels of fats, food residue 

and other contaminants, which can 

block plumbing and cause odours. 


Bathroom greywater is sometimes used 

on gardens provided it is not heavily 

tainted with soap, bubble bath and other 

toiletries. However, bathroom plumbing 

can be difficult to access in order to set 

up greywater diversion systems. 


Laundry water is most commonly 

reused on gardens. Raised laundry 

sinks make pipes accessible and allow 

gravity to help the water flow into the 

garden. The use of eco-friendly laundry 

powders, ensures that the greywater has 

relatively low chemical content, 

protecting the health of the garden. 



An average of 45,668 gallons (per 3 person household) of grey water is wasted down the drain each year.  Reusing this water reduces the amount of freshwater that gets drawn upon.  Utilizing grey water also decreases energy consumption. A substantial amount of energy is expended to pump and treat the water for our use.  The power used to supply Americans a year’s worth of water is equivalent to the amount needed to supply 4.5 million homes with energy for a year.   Reducing pollution is yet another benefit.  Pollutants in grey water are redirected away from streams, rivers, and lakes.  While substances found in grey water can do damage to aquatic life, when used to irrigate soil breaks down these would be pollutants and transforms them into nutrients for the plants.  BENEFITS for Your Wallet: Some states offer tax credits for installing gray water systems.  Be sure to look into it prior to installation because some states require an application before the system is put in.  There is also savings from the reduction in your water use. Depending on the system you opt for though, the total savings may not offset your expenses.  BENEFITS for Your Plants: Grey water may contain detergents with nitrogen and phosphate and can be beneficial to your plants.  In addition, if you use a subsurface irrigation system (required in California), it forces plant roots to reach downward to obtain water making them stronger.  For those of you in areas prone to droughts, the availability of grey water can be a lifesaver for your plants. Cost: VariableThere are do-it-yourself options that can be fairly cheap, but as far as having a system installed they are almost all upwards of $1000.  In addition, there may be maintenance and water treatment costs.  Time and Effort: HighLaws regarding the reuse of grey water can vary from state-to-state, county-to-county, and city-to-city, so finding out what is applicable in your area may take a bit of research.  Once you determine the codes you must abide by, planning and installing will take additional time and effort.  Here is a good website site to start with regards to grey water policy: Installing a Grey Water SystemThings to ConsiderLegal issues: The reuse of grey water is prohibited in some states.  Find out its status in your state before investing time and money in planning a system.Health and Hygiene Issues: Although there has yet to be health issues associated with the use of grey water in the U.S, there are still some general precautions that should be taken.    All contact with it should be avoided as it can contain microorganisms, chemical contaminants, and physical contaminants.  Avoid surface contact with plants and with edible roots.  Do not irrigate using a sprinkler system or in sloping areas that can lead to runoff.  If someone in your household is suffering from an infectious disease discontinue the reuse of grey water.  Storing untreated grey water beyond 24 hours can lead to bacterial growth, don’t do it.Complexity of Your System: It is important to determine the best system based on the set up of your home and the way you use your water.  This is where some professional consulting can come in handy.  Systems vary from the storage of water from the washing machine in a barrel to dual-piping systems throughout the house leading to a filtration system and holding tank.  How will you reuse the water: While most gray water is reused for irrigation purposes, if the water is treated it can also be used indoors for flushing toilets.  This can make a huge difference when you consider that at 30%, toilets use the most water in the home.  There are some issues of debate as to whether setting up a system and using chemicals to treat grey water would do more environmental harm than good in the reusing of water.  Switching to a high efficiency toilet may be a better investment.  Other issues: Not all plants can be watered with grey water nor can all soils handle it.  You can locate a list of plants that are grey water intolerant and ones that may be able to tolerate grey water.  Because what goes down your drains is being reused, be sure to select more eco-friendly cleaners and detergents.  Try to find low sodium products because too much sodium can be fatal for plants.    


(taken from 

Beautiful Tacoma and Beyond: What are your favorite places?

August 12th, 2008

Where does your family head on a beautiful summer afternoon?  Do you visit a favorite Tacoma Playground, play in the sand at Owen beach?  Maybe you take a trip across the Narrows to get away, or North to Browns Point or Federal Way.  Do you have any favorite family camping spots that you return to each year?  A scenic weekend get away? A kid friendly hotel?  Please share your favorite spots to enjoy the outdoors with your family.  

Tacoma’s Beauty

August 12th, 2008

It seems that lately when we talk about the environment it is a discussion that evokes a feeling of doom.  While the challenges that we face are legitamate corncerns that do require our imediate attention, it is important to remember what it is that we are trying to protect. In the great North West, we are blessed many times over with abundant beauty.  Here in Tacoma, we have Mount Raineer, Olympic National Park, and the Washington Coast all within our reach.  While our children may inherit the burdens of our generation, they will also inherit tremendous beauty and resources.  This month, lets focus on experiencing the beauty in our backyard and grow our appreciation with our families. If we teach appreciation, our children’s generation is less likely to make the same mistakes ours has.   In our family, when we enjoy the outdoors, we are always looking for the next best thing.  Sometimes this leads us to finding a new jewel, and sometimes we would have been better off with an old favorite.  To me,  Point Defiance is that old favorite that is often under appreciated.  It is much more then a “park”.  Here we find 702 acres to explore.  It is all in our city and minutes from home.  When you really think about how fortunate me are to have this treasure, it seems silly that we do not honor it more. I hope to see many of you this will month at Point Defiance.Hare & Hare report to park commissioners - 1911    

Non-Toxic Cleaner Recipes

June 25th, 2008

Thanks to all who contributed the recipes bellow.  I have found some additional recipes that I thought looked worth trying as well.

Holly’s Happy Bathroom De-Funker:  Mix 2 teaspoons Tea Tree oil with 2 Cups water to kill mildew and mold and adding a fresh and invigorating scent.

Sandi’s So Strong Soda Scrub :  Scrub baking soda on counter tops, tubs, and sinks.  For extra strength add some borax.

Meghan’s Mighty Disinfectant:  Add 2 quarts of apple cider vinegar to 2 handfuls (each) of dried of lavender, rosemary, sage, rue, and mint.  Allow the mixture to sit for 4 weeks then strain and pour into spray bottles.

Other recipes:


Wood floor polish

What you’ll need:

 What to do:

  • 1/8 cup of olive oil
  • 1 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp vodka
  • 10 drops of lavender oil (or other essential oil)
  1.  Mix the ingredients together and apply to your wood floor with a soft cloth. After rubbing it in, buff with another clean, soft cloth.

Glass Cleaner 

What you’ll need:

 What to do:

  • Club soda
  • 8 or 16 oz. spray bottle
  1.  Fill the bottle with plain club soda, spray and wipe.


Simply pour about 1/2 cup of baking soda into a bowl, and add enough liquid detergent to make a texture like frosting. Scoop the mixture onto a sponge, and wash the surface. This is the perfect recipe for cleaning the bathtub because it rinses easily and doesn’t leave grit.

Note: Add 1 teaspoon of vegetable glycerin to the mixture and store in a sealed glass jar, to keep the product moist. Otherwise just make as much as you need at a time.

1/4-1/2 teaspoon liquid detergent
3 tablespoons vinegar
2 cups water
Spray bottle

Put all the ingredients into a spray bottle, shake it up a bit, and use as you would a commercial brand. The soap in this recipe is important. It cuts the wax residue from the commercial brands you might have used in the past.

1 cup or more baking soda
A squirt or two of liquid detergent

Sprinkle water generously over the bottom of the oven, then cover the grime with enough baking soda that the surface is totally white. Sprinkle some more water over the top. Let the mixture set overnight. You can easily wipe up the grease the next morning because the grime will have loosened. When you have cleaned up the worst of the mess, dab a bit of liquid detergent or soap on a sponge, and wash the remaining residue from the oven. If this recipe doesn’t work for you it is probably because you didn’t use enough baking soda and/or water.

1/2 teaspoon oil, such as olive (or jojoba, a liquid wax)
1/4 cup vinegar or fresh lemon juice
Mix the ingredients in a glass jar. Dab a soft rag into the solution and wipe onto wood surfaces. Cover the glass jar and store indefinitely.

Thyme Cleaner – Disinfectant

2 1/2 cups water
1 handful thyme (fresh or dried)
Liquid castille soap (squirt)

  • Boil water, add thyme. Simmer for several hours over medium-low heat, covered. Cool, then strain. Pour the water into a spray bottle, top with white vinegar and squirt of soap. Use as needed.

Herb Disinfectant Cleaner

This spray cleaner disinfects surfaces, kills mold, and discourages its return. Eucaplyptus, lavender, and tea tree are all known for their antimicrobial properties.

1 tsp. sodium lauryl sulfate
1 tsp. borax
2 Tbs. white vinegar
2 cups hot water
1/4 tsp. eucalyptus essential oil
1/4 tsp. lavender essential oil
3 drops tea tree essential oil

  • Mix all ingredients together and stir until dry ingredients dissolve. Pour into spray bottle. To use, spray as needed on any surface except glass. Scrub and rinse with clean, damp cloth.

*Source: The Herb Companion, September 1999

Herbal All Purpose Cleaner

1 cup water
1 cup vinegar
2 tsp liquid castille soap
25 drops essential oil of thyme, eucalyptus, tea tree, lavendar, sandalwood, lemon, orange

  • Add all ingredients to a large spray bottle (about 22 ounces) and shake before using. This formula disinfects and can be used on any washable surface in your home. Naturally antiviral and antifungal.

*Source: The Naturally Clean Home by Karyn Siegel-Maier

Lavender Soft Scrubber

3/4 cup baking soda
1/4 cup powdered milk
1/8 cup (one-eighth) liquid castile soap
5 drops lavender Essential Oil

  • Combine all ingredients in a squirt-top bottle and add enough water to make a smooth paste. Shake or stir to mix. Apply to surface, then wipe area clean with a damp sponge or cloth. Rinse well.

*Source: The Naturally Clean Home by Karyn Siegel-Maier




Non-Toxic Home Cleaners

June 22nd, 2008

In the past months, we have been discussing the many ways to avoid putting toxins into our bodies through the foods that we eat.  Unfortunately, when choosing non-toxic foods we usually must spend more.   This month, we are discussing how to reduce toxins in our homes while we save money.  In doing a bit of research, you will easily find that making our own home cleaners is much more cost effective.  The benefits are numerous.  Herbal and non-toxic cleaners are:

  • Safer home for our children and pets
  • Kinder to the planet
  • Eliminate the need for plastic packaging
  • Customized to include your favorite herbal fragrance
  • Family Friendly:  Involve you children in making the solutions.  In addition, children can help clean with out being exposed to harsh chemicals

I hope that many of you will join us on Thursday as we make our own herbal all purpose cleaner.  The recipe that we will make includes fresh or dried thyme.  If anyone has any thyme growing in there garden that they can spare to add to my supply, please let me know.

I hope to discuss the use of Borax  in the home.  I have not yet used it myself, this is my first try at making any home cleaning products.  I have found lots of recipes including borax, but also some strong statements on why we shouldn’t include it.  I know that Sandi mention that she has liked including it when baking soda doesn’t do the trick.  Anyone else?

Open Space Community Meeting on 6/12

June 7th, 2008

The Open Space Community Meeting will be Thursday June 12 at 6 pm at UPS, in the Murray Board Room at the Student Union Building.  1500 N Warner

For background reading, check out or

This will be a discussion of the city’s approach to managing, acquiring and restoring habitat areas as well as parks and trails, etc..  A little talking and a lot of milling around looking at maps, providing input, and supporting green city planning. 

Consumer Power (topic for June, 2008)

June 2nd, 2008

In June we will be discussing Consumer Power.  It is easy to feel that we, as individuals, have no way to take a stand against some of the troublesome practices of corporate America.  Whether we find fault in buying cheep clothing and toys from China,  food made with GMO’s, or objectionable marketing campaigns we do have a voice.  This month, let’s share our idea’s in how we can practice using our voices and wallets to bring about the change we deserve.  Please post your ideas for conversation, references and opinions.

Homemade Household Cleaners (June 2008 event)

June 2nd, 2008

Please Join us on Thursday, June 26 at 4:30 PM as we make our own household cleaners at Jefferson Park. Hopefully, the weather will be warmer by then and the children can enjoy the spray ground.  Please bring your own empty cleaning containers and we will supply the rest.  Since the cleaners are all natural and safe, the kids can help us mix them up. Better yet, they can help with the cleaning once you get home! If you have a tested recipe that you would like to share please post it here so that we can include it at the event. If you are not on our mailing list and would like to be join us, please contact Melissa at

Point Defiance Flower Show

May 29th, 2008

The Tacoma Water Conservation team needs volunteers to help run a booth at the Point Defiance Flower Show on June 6,7,8.  The shifts are 3 hours (12:30-3:30, or 3:15-6:15).  For doing one shift, you will get free admission into the show, which normally costs $10.  If you are interested, please contact Dan Muir at or 253-502-8191.  THANKS!!!!

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April 29th, 2008

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