Permaculture Tip of the Day – What is Grey and Black Water?

grey and black water
As I write this tip I am holding back the urge to launch into a 50 shades of gray parody. Ha – I’ll leave that to the professionals. When I was at the Earthship Academy, a foreman, on a house build, mentioned it was safe to live “downstream” from an earthship. I’d like to add further that it is safe to live downstream (or downwind) from any permaculture property due to our ability to treat septic (grey and black) water on site.
The difference between grey and black water:

  • Grey Water is classified (in the developed “over-regulated” parts of the world) as water that has been used for washing such as in sinks, showers, and the washing machine. Usually then piped or drained into growing systems for both more practical edible and aesthetic use. It is wise to use biodegradable detergents when using grey water for biological use. Scratch that – it is wise to use biodegradable detergents, when cleaning, at all times.
  • Black water is classified as water that transports human bodily waste material, such as toilets.

The “gray area” in grey water is in the kitchen. Depending on country, the kitchen sink and dishwasher water are classified as either or. The United States treats kitchen sink water as black water and thus it needs to be treated as such to meet septic code in areas where that is necessary (code permitting is a tip of the day in the making). In locations where the kitchen sink can be treated as grey water, I highly recommend, if at all possible, to make the connection point, after filtration, from the kitchen sink underground and/or outside to prevent odor.
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