How to Recycle Water: 3 Ways to Reuse Water at Home

By Maureen Wise in Thinking Sustainably

Water use may not be the first area you think to tackle when it comes to reducing your personal waste. But reusing water can go a long way toward lessening your personal environmental footprint, as clean water is a limited resource. If you want to know how to recycle water at home, there are two major kinds of water to reuse: greywater and rainwater.

According to Greywater Action, greywater is "gently used water from your bathroom sinks, showers, tubs, and washing machines. It is not water that has come into contact with feces, either from the toilet or from washing diapers." The latter, dirtier water also includes water that has come in contact with food, like from the dishwater and kitchen sink.

Food- and waste-contaminated water is considered blackwater and can not be reused. Greywater, however, can be either directly reused or filtered first. You can also reuse rainwater; though this type of water does require "harvesting" when it falls.

Greywater and rainwater should not be used for drinking or cooking unless you have a dedicated filtering system to treat the water for consumption.

The Environmental Cost of Water

Using water that comes from a tap takes energy. Whether your water is harvested from a lake, an aquifer, a well, or somewhere else, it must first be pumped to either a water treatment plant or a water treatment system in your home. In both instances, electricity is used to clean and filter the water.

From there, water is pumped to your tap or a water tower for storage. After you've used the water, it goes down the drain and either makes its way into a septic system or a different municipal wastewater treatment plant that also uses energy to treat the water. After both the septic system and the wastewater treatment plant, the water is released back into nature to join the water cycle.

Our water consumption creates quite a journey, frequently called the urban water cycle.

In 2009, River Network estimated that the energy used in the United States to supply and treat water was at least 521 million megawatts-an-hour each year, which was 13% of the nation's electricity consumption.

Circular tubs of water with long, rectangular water treatment pools

3 Ways to Reuse Your Greywater

Reusing greywater can be a great way to do your part and help ease a bit of that consumption-related energy. Here are a few ways to get started.

1. Save Your Warm-Up Water

In both your kitchen sink and your shower, leave a bucket or watering can to save the water that goes down the drain while you're waiting for the water to warm up. This water might be called greywater, but it's not dirty at all. You can drink it, put it in your pet's water bowl, or water your plants with it.

2. Reuse Washing Water

If you use a washbasin for cleaning your dishes, your dog, yourself, or your baby—reuse the water! Your house plants and veggies in your garden won't mind a little soap or grime at all. In fact, the soap may actually act as a bug repellent.

Doshes sit in a wash basin in a skin with a sunny window with plants and a radio

3. Install a Greywater System

Installing a greywater system is a costly and involved project. To create your own home water recycling system, you will need dedicated purple greywater lines installed by a plumber, and usually a filtering system so you can reuse the water. Such greywater systems are becoming common in arid environments, but those in water-rich communities can also benefit from water recycling. Most commonly, greywater systems are used to irrigate gardens.

How to Make Use of Rainwater

As we mentioned before, rainwater must first be collected to be reused. Like greywater, rainwater collection can be simple or more involved. One way you can collect it is in a receptacle, such as a watering can. Simply leave one in your yard when it's raining so it can fill with water falling from the sky. Then, you can use this water to feed your plants on a drier day.

If you want to collect more than a watering can full of water—and reduce stormwater runoff at the same time—you can install a rain barrel. The barrels catch the water that drains from your roof through your downspouts. They typically have a spigot at the bottom with a hose so you can water your gardens. And thanks to this new installation, the rainwater from your roof won't enter the storm drains and pollute your local waterway.

Lessen Your Overall Water Usage

All in all, we encourage you to use less water in general. Take shorter showers, install low-flow toilet fixtures and showerheads, only run full loads of dishes and laundry, and commit to fixing leaks as soon as they start. Like energy conservation, the less you use, the less your impact on the earth will be.

Are you inspired to figure out how to recycle water at your home? For more eco-friendly choices and swaps to make, follow the Thinking Sustainably board from @tomsofmaine on Pinterest!

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Why It's Good

Reusing water reduces your overall water usage and helps to reduce the energy needed to treat and supply water overall.