Grey Water, Green Plants

GreywaterBBy Katie Winchell

As conscious humans in 2010–‘11 Los Angeles, it’s difficult not to feel guilty about something. From the fossil fuels we burn riding in planes, trains and vehicles to the leaky faucet we take a month to fix, we all accumulate a legacy of tiny abuses on the environment.

Yet as WLT readers know, we can also take sustainable steps to minimize our impact. One easy-to-do option for the California green home toolkit: the laundry-to-landscape greywater system.

What is Greywater, and Why Is It Important?
In California, like most of the West, freshwater is a dwindling and precious resource. According to the Association of California Water Agencies, escalating population, deteriorating water infrastructure, prolonged drought and climate change have already placed our state in freshwater crisis mode. Conservation is, therefore, vital. So vital, in fact, that plumbing codes were recently changed to allow the reuse of greywater (water from bathtubs, showers and washing machines) from single family homes and duplexes.

You can use greywater to irrigate your lawn, if you have one, as well as ornamental plants and fruit trees—a move that saves water but also conserves energy and resources by reducing the load on septic and sewer systems.

Laundry to Landscape
Thirty-year sustainability pioneer and publisher Art Ludwig of Oasis Design, believes his open source laundry-to-landscape system that directs washing machine water to the garden is the best way to capitalize on this newly legal reuse opportunity. “It’s the simplest, least expensive, lowest effort way to get the most greywater out to the landscape most effectively,” he said. And laundry-only greywater systems can be installed without a permit, providing they meet a short list of reasonable requirements.

The actual plumbing of the laundry-to-landscape design is fairly straightforward. Laura Allen, a founder of the nonprofit organization Greywater Action, was an elementary school teacher when she first experimented with greywater at her home 11 years ago. Since then, she’s been teaching others how to install greywater systems. “It’s a fun, logical thing that everyone should be doing. If you’re handy, laundry-to-landscape is simple to build.”P1020721_resize

According to L.A.-based Greywater Corps, which offers local classes to Angelenos, plumbing a laundry-to-landscape system is fairly straightforward. It involves installing a diverter valve on a washing machine’s existing outflow hose so greywater can either be directed to the landscape for regular watering, or to the sewer or septic system if needed (if, say, toxic bleach is going to be used). The washing machine’s own pump powers the water outflow. When water is directed to the yard, it can be subdivided into multiple watering lines to reach underground boxes that water planted areas. Tools and parts can include brass valves, Teflon tape, PVC pipe and adapters, PVC cement and a pipe cutter. If you’re well-versed in these items, you can probably tap do-it-yourself information to build your own system. Otherwise, it might be wise to take a class or get help from an expert (see sidebar).

Laura Allen, a founder of the nonprofit organization Greywater Action, was an elementary school teacher when she first experimented with greywater at her house 11 years ago. Since then, she’s been teaching others how to install greywater systems. “It’s a fun, logical thing that everyone should be doing. If you’re handy, laundry-to-landscape is simple to build.”

Once a system is in place, Allen has found that people are more conscious of what they put in their washing machines. To be plant friendly, it’s best to avoid bleach, boron and sodium—all staples of mass market laundry products.

The Payoff
If you’re lucky enough to have a well, you’ll be conserving those resources, and if you’re tapped into the city, your bill will definitely drop. But the most satisfying part of having a laundry-to-landscape system is the sense of being personally connected to the water cycle. “When I see my laundry water going outside to water my kiwi vine, almond tree, lemon tree and raspberry patch, I feel happy and content to have that water get a second use,” Allen said. “I’m also happy that I don’t have to do the watering myself. It’s a fun kind of multitasking.”

Going Grey Can Be Fun

Useful, free DIY videos and manuals
Oasis Design

L.A.-based installers/Classes
Greywater Action

Laundry-to-landscape kits
Clean Water Components

Plant-friendly laundry products
Ecos Liquid Laundry Detergent
Oasis Biocompatible Laundry Detergent

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