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What would the landscaper do? Investigating grey water

Water running down tap.resize

It seems as though winter has finally arrived, with most of South Africa is experiencing extremely cold weather. A few parts of South Africa may be lucky enough to experience some snow and others might be fortunate to receive a bit of the much needed rain.

While we live in this beautiful country, we need to find better ways in reducing our overall demand for fresh water. Ways in which you can do this is by water-wise planting, rainwater harvesting, water efficient appliances and fixtures, and by also re using the water which has already been used in your household or business – Water Recycling or Grey Water Usage.

If you had to write down how much water you use on a daily basis eg: Bath = 80 litres, Shower = 30 litres, Hand washing dishes = 20 litres, washing machine = 80 – 120 litres and a toilet per day = 40 – 100 litres. Excluding the water we drink, use for cooking and watering the garden the total is about on estimate 300 litres +/ – per day, this is huge! Calculate this over a full year and it is close to 110,000 litres of fresh water that is about 3.7 baths a day. Which is a lot of fresh water…

Reduce your fresh water demandFlowing stream

Grey water is the water that comes out of drains from showers, baths, sinks and washing machines. This water is distinctly different from black water, black water is what gets flushed down drains (toilets). Grey water can be used for watering your household plants, within your garden and even flushing the toilet.

The problem we have in South Africa is that our regular plumbing systems can’t tell the difference between the black and grey water so most of our grey water gets mixed with black and then gets piped strait to the sewerage farm.

One thing we have to clarify is that not all grey water is the same. Water, which comes from the dishwasher or kitchen sink, can contain a lot of organic matter and has the potential for harbouring harmful pathogens. Kitchen sink water under some codes is considered black water and should not be used. Water that is used from a bath tub or bathroom sink usually has very little amounts of soap residue and organic matter. The water from the kitchen sink and dishwasher is not a complete waste, a biofilter can be installed and this makes this water virtually fine for domestic grey water use.

As a landscaper I would not use grey water continually as a source of water to irrigate my plants. Allowing a bit of fresh water every now and then helps to dilute the grey water residue even further, thus limiting the risks of fungal attack and other diseases.

We are lucky enough to have some great guys in the industry. I would recommend that you consult a professional to ensure your system is up to the standard required for grey water harvesting.

Easy daily water saving tips

  • Put a brick or two into your toilet cistern – this helps stop the cistern filling up with too much water.
  • Put a bucket in your shower or basin when waiting for the tap to get hot – this water is clean and once cool can be used to water plants. Often hundreds of litres get wasted when awaiting the warm tap to get hot.
  • Wash cloths once a week not every day.
  • Close all your taps and check your water meter, if it is still running then there could be an under ground leak.
  • Instead of using a conventional geyser in the roof, go the gas route thus less water and electricity has to be used (Gas heats up water much faster).
  • If you own a garden, start looking at how you can collect the rain off your roof and look at storing that in water tanks.
  • Look at water wise planting arrangements and installing an irrigation system with a rain sensor.

Service providers, have a look at HomeTimes’ Suburb Intelligence and email david@hometimes.co.za for more information on how to position your business, aimed at the communities you service 

Who is Nicholas Spargo?

Nicholas Spargo, owner of Spargo Landscape Consultants.

Nicholas Spargo, owner of Spargo Landscape Consultants.

Nicholas Spargo, owner of Spargo Landscape Consultants, has been in the landscape trade for 12 years as well as being a lecturer at the Lifestyle Garden Design Centre for the past year. He was awarded a Gold for a design at the Lifestyle Garden Design Centre Design Show in 2008, is an Invasive Species Consultant and is affiliated with the South African Green Industries Council.

Landscaping and education are very close to his heart



Review overview
  • Alan Clow 14th June 2016

    I would be very careful using grey water from a shower/bath if a lot of hair conditioner is used. It will quickly clog pipes and outlets and is not good for grass and some plants

  • Nick Spargo 20th June 2016

    Hi Alan,

    Thank you for the response.
    I agree with you there, everything in moderation. Anything that is used excessively will cause a problem.

    Kind regards,