Greywater: an information guide


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Environment Agency Greywater: an information guide 1

Introduction.........................................................................................................3 Types of systems available ...............................................................................5 Supply and demand ...........................................................................................9 Regulations .......................................................................................................11 Cost-effectiveness ...........................................................................................16 Energy ...............................................................................................................19 Conclusions ......................................................................................................21 References ........................................................................................................22 Glossary of terms.............................................................................................24 List of abbreviations ........................................................................................25


Environment Agency Greywater: an information guide

1. Introduction
Greywater is wastewater from showers, baths, washbasins, washing machines and kitchen sinks. It can be collected from some or all of these sources and, after treatment, used for purposes around the home such as toilet flushing or garden watering that do not require drinking water quality. This guide defines greywater as wastewater only from showers, baths and hand basins. It excludes the more contaminated water from washing machines and kitchen sinks. ‘Greywater reuse’ is the use of untreated greywater and ‘greywater recycling’ is the use of treated greywater. Recent years have seen increased interest in ‘green’ technologies and greywater recycling is no exception. This publication focuses on systems for domestic uses and is intended for homeowners, house builders, planners, architects and building managers. It discusses: • • • different types of systems available; design, installation and maintenance requirements; economic and environmental issues.

1.1 Why recycle greywater?
Although England and Wales appear to enjoy plenty of rainfall, their increasing population and the changing climate mean that water resources are under pressure – especially in south-east England. There is less water available per person in south-east England than in many Mediterranean countries. The large number of new houses being constructed in this region over the next few years will increase the competition for available water between the environment and people. If used for toilet flushing, a well-designed and fully functional greywater system could potentially save a third of the water used in the home. Recycled greywater could also cater for other uses for which potable water quality is not essential such as garden watering or vehicle washing. The greater the proportion of recycled water used, the less mains water will be needed thereby easing the pressure on water resources. Chapter 3 describes this in more detail. Recycling greywater not only reduces the consumption of mains water, it also reduces the volume of water discharged into the sewerage system. Consumers with water meters could therefore save money on both their water supply and wastewater bills. The economics of recycling systems are covered in more detail in chapter 5. At present greywater systems are not common in England and Wales. This may be because: • • • • systems are expensive to purchase, maintain and run, while the cost of water is relatively low; only a third of domestic customers have metered water supplies and thus would save money; there are no regulations covering the quality of recycled water; the reliability of greywater systems has been poor in the past and remains unproven.

Other countries have embraced the technology: • • • • Many greywater systems are installed each year in Germany. Australia offers grants for the installation of greywater systems. In Tokyo, greywater recycling is mandatory for buildings with an area >30,000 m2 or with a potential non-potable demand of more than 100 m3/day (CBSE 2003). Cyprus subsidises the use of greywater for toilet flushing and garden irrigation by offering subsidies of €1700. The subsidy is valid up to 1 December 20081.


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In the UK, the Code for Sustainable Homes2 launched in December 2006 sets a range of standards for water use per person in newly built houses. To meet the highest levels of the code, the internal per person daily water use has to be less than 80 litres. To meet this target, either greywater or rainwater harvesting is likely to be needed.



Environment Agency Greywater: an information guide

2. Types of systems available
Greywater recycling systems vary significantly in their complexity and size from small systems with very simple treatment to large systems with complex treatment processes. However, most have common features such as: • • • • some sort of treatment facility; a tank for storing the treated water; a pump; a distribution system for transporting the treated water to where it is needed.

All systems that store greywater have to incorporate some level of treatment, as untreated greywater deteriorates rapidly in storage. This rapid deterioration occurs because greywater is often warm and rich in organic matter such as skin particles, hair and soaps/detergents. This warm, nutrient-rich water provides ideal conditions for bacteria to multiply, resulting in odour problems and poor water quality. Greywater may also contain harmful bacteria, which could present a health risk without adequate water treatment or with inappropriate use. The risk of inappropriate use is higher where children have access to the water. Greywater systems can be grouped according to the type of treatment they use. Note that the commercially available systems quoted in this guide are for illustration only.3 The Environment Agency does not recommend any particular manufacturer or system.


Direct reuse systems (no treatment)

It is possible to reuse greywater without any treatment provided that the water is not stored for long before use. For example, once bath water has cooled, it can be used directly to water the garden. Very simple devices are available to make this practical. Among these is the ‘WaterGreen’ by Droughtbuster UK Ltd,4 which is essentially a hose pipe with a small hand pump to create a siphon. This allows cooled bath water to be taken directly from the bath and sent through the hose to the garden (usually via an open window). Using greywater in this way may not be for everyone, but it does provide an inexpensive and easy way of saving water while avoiding the issues that arise when greywater is stored for any length of time. It is particularly useful for keen gardeners when water use restrictions are in place. Experts usually advise that greywater should not be used on fruit or vegetable crops. See our website ( for more information on water efficient gardening. Equipment is also available to allow more integrated direct reuse of greywater. For example, a valve can be fitted to an external waste pipe that drains water from the bath or shower. This valve can be used to direct greywater to a water butt where, once cooled, it can be used for garden irrigation. An example of this type of valve is the ‘Water Two’5 valve, which can be fitted to existing piping and switched to either divert greywater to drain or to storage. As there is no treatment, it is important that the greywater is not stored for long as the water quality deteriorates rapidly.


Short retention systems

These systems take wastewater from the bath or shower and apply a very basic treatment technique such as skimming debris off the surface and allowing particles to settle to the bottom of
3 4

All company websites cited in this guide were available as of 14 April 2008. 5

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the tank. An example of such a system is the ‘Ecoplay’ unit,6 which aims to avoid odour and water quality issues by treating the greywater to a basic standard and ensuring the water is not stored for too long. If it is not used within a certain time, the stored treated water is released and the system is topped up with mains water. However, potential water savings are dependent on usage patterns. Using the simplest level of treatment makes these systems relatively cheap to buy and run, while reducing the risk of equipment failure leading to expensive repairs. According to the Ecoplay website,6 Ecoplay is ‘maintenance free’ with ‘no filters to clean or replace’. Another benefit of these systems is that they can be located in the same room as the source of greywater, thus reducing the need for expensive, dual-network plumbing. Ecoplay is limited to the domestic market (including hotels) where it can be installed in a bathroom and the balance of shower use and toilet flushing allows it to operate effectively. The product is suited to installation in newly built homes and renovation projects, but is not recommended for retrofitting. The system’s reliability, maintenance requirements and long-term savings are, as yet, unproven.


Basic physical and chemical systems

Some systems use a filter to remove debris from greywater prior to storage while chemical disinfectants (e.g. chlorine or bromine) are used to stop bacterial growth during storage. The use of disinfectant has an environmental impact as well as cost implications. Both need to be considered in overall costs and benefits. A study by the Environment Agency (NWDMC 2000) of this type of system reported: • • • • • a range of water savings from less than 6 to over 32 per cent of total water use; variable reliability; filters required regular cleaning to avoid blockages; odour problems due to either poor water quality or high levels of disinfectant; instances where the system had failed and switched to mains back-up with users unaware of the failure.

Several other studies have looked at the water saving potential of these systems and have also encountered similar reliability issues. For example, South Staffordshire Water installed and monitored physical/chemical greywater systems in a block of flats and found them unreliable.7 Some residents were initially happy with the systems but, with time, residents identified problems such as odour, performance, noise and water quality. These problems were exacerbated by difficulties in gaining access to the systems in the flats for service and repair, and eventually led to their removal. The payback was estimated at over 65 years which, in this case, was significantly longer than the life of the systems. This project highlighted the technical and practical issues that can occur with the installation of basic greywater systems. For example, access issues could have been avoided if a communal system had been installed instead of individual systems in each flat. A study by Thames Water in conjunction with Cranfield University monitored the effectiveness of five individual household scale greywater systems between April 1999 and May 2000 (Hills et al. 2002). The systems studied were very similar to those described in the earlier Environment Agency report (NWDMC 2000). The systems used basic filtration and chemical disinfection (bromine) to treat the greywater. Of the five houses investigated, one produced no data due to monitoring difficulties and another was often left unoccupied. This left three systems producing representative data, with savings of 9–21 per cent of total consumption. Systems were unreliable and users often did not know when the systems had failed. Problems were identified during regular, routine system checks by project staff and faults fixed quickly. But even with this support in place, the poor reliability of the systems meant the actual savings realised were significantly below the expected 40 per cent of total domestic consumption. All the systems were serviced in January 2000 (nine South Staffordshire Water, 2004 A Study on the Effectiveness of Grey Water Recycling Technology. [Unpublished].
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Environment Agency Greywater: an information guide

months into the trial) and appeared to operate properly until May. But when they were revisited in January 2002, only one out of the five systems was functioning properly – and this had been serviced one month previously.


Biological systems

Biological systems vary in their complexity and form, but the concept is the same: bacteria are used to remove organic material (contamination) from wastewater. The process uses the same principles employed at sewage treatment works. Oxygen is introduced to wastewater to allow the bacteria to ‘digest’ the organic contamination. Different systems supply oxygen in different ways; some use pumps to draw air through the water in storage tanks while others use plants to aerate the water. In nature, reeds thrive in waterlogged conditions by transferring oxygen to their roots. Biological systems generally use reed beds to add oxygen to wastewater and allow naturally occurring bacteria to remove organic matter. Wastewater can be passed through the soil/gravel in which the reeds are growing and the bacteria fed by oxygen from the reeds and nutrients from the wastewater decompose the waste. Reed beds are an established method for treating wastewater/sewage and can also be used to treat greywater. However, they require a certain amount of expertise and a suitable, relatively large outside area. Water Works UK markets a system called GROW (Green Roof Water Recycling System8). This system uses a series of gravel-filled troughs which filter greywater through a reed bed containing active bacteria. The greywater is pumped to the gravel troughs where it passes through the filter media for around 18 hours. This filtered water then passes through an ultraviolet (UV) filter to kill any remaining bacteria and is dyed green to distinguish it from potable water. A second system (GROW2) is now available, which can be positioned in the garden if no appropriate roof area is available.9


Bio-mechanical systems

The most advanced domestic greywater treatment systems use a combination of biological and physical treatment. An example of such a system is the ‘AquaCycle® 900’.10 This system was developed in Germany, where mains water is more expensive than in the UK (Ofwat 2005) and where greywater systems are more common. The ‘AquaCycle® 900’ is a substantial system about the size of a large fridge, which means it needs to be installed in a basement or garage. It is best installed during construction and is not suited for retrofitting into existing buildings due to cost and other practical difficulties. The AquaCycle® 900 is an ‘all-in-one’ unit which treats and stores water in three enclosed tanks. Greywater is filtered through self-cleaning filters as it flows into the storage unit. Organic matter is removed by microbial cultures formed on rubber chips. Solid material is allowed to settle to the bottom of the tank and is removed automatically. The system encourages bacterial activity by bubbling oxygen through the water. The final stage of the system is UV disinfection to remove any remaining bacteria. This process claims to produce treated water that meets EU bathing water standards. Another commercially available all-in-one system is the ‘WME-4’,11 which uses biological pretreatment through aeration and then membrane filtration to produce high quality treated greywater. Combining physical and biological treatment generally produces the highest quality water, but it also uses a significant amount of energy (see chapter 6), is expensive to purchase and operate (the AquaCycle® 900 costs around £3,000 to buy), and maintenance costs are uncertain.
8 9 10 11 Http://

Environment Agency Greywater: an information guide 7

This high level of water quality may not be required if the use of treated greywater is restricted in an individual property to toilet flushing. But where stored greywater is treated to a high standard, there is potential for its use in other applications such as vehicle washing. A high standard of water quality may also be required in communal systems to overcome both real and perceived risks associated with the treated water.


Environment Agency Greywater: an information guide

3. Supply and demand
Average water use in England and Wales is just under 150 litres per person per day (Ofwat 2007). About a third of this is used for toilet flushing and this proportion could potentially be replaced by treated greywater. Figures 1 and 2 show how water is used in existing and new build homes respectively. Figure 1: Typical water use in an existing home

Outdoor Dishwasher Toilet

Washing machine

Kitchen sink

Shower, bath and basin

Source: Environment Agency (2007)

Figure 1 shows that the volume of water used to flush the toilet in a typical household is slightly smaller than the volume of water available from showers, baths and washbasins. Thus it seems that water demand for toilet flushing could be met by recycling greywater. This would provide significant savings as toilet flushing represents a relatively large proportion of household demand. Figure 2 shows that the way we use water is changing. The key issue is the decreasing proportion of water used for toilet flushing and the increasing proportion used for washing. This is due to the installation of progressively lower flush toilets and the trend for high water consumption showers and mains pressure hot water systems. Although there is still more than enough greywater available to meet the demand for toilet flushing, the savings would be lower. Where ultra low flush toilets are installed, these potential savings become smaller still. Smaller water savings lead to longer payback periods so, as toilet technologies improve, the potential for water saving through greywater recycling reduces. Water use patterns vary widely between households. This has consequences for the suitability of greywater systems in specific households. For example, some households may use a large amount of water for showering and bathing in the morning and evening, and spend most of the day at work where other toilet facilities are available. This situation would produce a surplus of greywater and water savings would be minimal. An alternative situation could arise where occupants have a low use of water for bathing and spend the majority of the day at home, therefore using a larger amount of water for flushing the toilet. This would create a higher demand for treated greywater than the quantity available and would also lead to minimal water savings.

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Figure 2: Typical water use in a new home

Outdoor Dishwasher Washing machine Toilet

Kitchen sink

Shower, bath and basin

Source: Environment Agency (2007)

Most greywater systems require some kind of regular maintenance. While some householders may be keen to get involved, others may be unwilling or unable to do so. If maintenance is not carried out, systems may fail and savings will be reduced. The cost of professional maintenance will further extend payback periods. Communal greywater systems can potentially avoid the problem of uneven supply and demand encountered by a single household system as people’s different consumption patterns cancel each other out. Maintenance may also be easier – cheaper per household and of a higher standard as it can be undertaken by dedicated staff. However, studies into perceptions of communal recycling schemes have found that people would prefer to reuse their own greywater rather than someone else’s (Jeffrey 2002). Studies have also shown that, where communal systems are installed, people prefer larger ‘city wide’ schemes where the source of the water is anonymous to more local schemes where they may know many of the people involved (Po et al. 2003). User acceptability is also a function of the type of usage. For example, the use of recycled water for golf courses, parks and industry is relatively easily accepted by the community, but the use of recycled water becomes less popular inside people’s homes. Within this, acceptability is lower for water uses where contact with the recycled water is greater (e.g. bathing) than it is for water uses where contact is minimal (e.g. toilet flushing) (Jeffrey 2002). Using greywater as a source of non-potable water can provide a more reliable and consistent supply of water than that available from rainwater harvesting. This is a distinct advantage over the use of rainwater as a supply of non-potable water. The supply of greywater will be reliable throughout the year, reducing the amount of mains back-up required at peak times when the mains water supply is already stretched.

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4. Regulations
4.1 Water quality
Water quality is a wide term covering physical, chemical and biological quality. • • Physical quality includes how clear the water is (i.e. turbidity), total suspended solids in the water and its temperature. Chemical quality includes how acid or alkaline the water is (i.e. pH), how much disinfectant is present (residual chlorine or bromine), the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water and biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) – a measure of the amount of organic material in the water. Biological quality mainly relates to the presence of bacteria and viruses. The groups of bacteria chosen as indicators of biological water quality are those abundant in human and animal faeces. Their presence indicates the presence of faecal contamination.

It is important that the water we use is fit for purpose. Recycled greywater will not be of the same water quality as mains water, but what does this mean? What risks does this present? And how clean does the water need to be? Greywater from showers, baths and washbasins will often be contaminated with human intestinal bacteria and viruses as well as organic debris such as skin particles and hair. Greywater will also contain residues of soaps, detergents and other cosmetic products; these often contain nutrients that help bacteria develop. This combination of bacteria, organic material and nutrients provides ideal conditions for bacteria. This is exacerbated by the relatively high temperature of greywater, which can encourage the growth of bacteria further. This is why untreated greywater should never be stored for more than a few hours. The most significant risk from greywater is exposure to pathogenic micro-organisms derived from faecal contamination. However, the physical and chemical characteristics of greywater are also important as these can encourage the growth of bacteria, interfere with treatment or disrupt the operation of fittings that use water. For these reasons, the physical, chemical and biological water quality of greywater must be suitable for its intended use. While stringent standards guard potable water quality in the UK, there are no regulatory standards concerning the quality of non-potable water. Many groups have called for appropriate standards for non-potable water to overcome concerns about potential health hazards and to bolster public confidence in using non-potable water, but the enforcement of such standards would be difficult as most systems are independently owned and maintained. The Water Supply (Water Quality) Regulations 200012 (as amended) are enforced by the Drinking Water Inspectorate13 and specify the quality standards for drinking water. Experts believe these are too strict to apply to water not intended for drinking. One alternative basis for water quality standards is the Bathing Water Directive,14 which works on the principle that water that meets the bathing water quality criteria should be safe for total immersion and occasional ingestion. Water that meets its standards should therefore also be safe for flushing toilets and watering the garden. The Government’s Market Transformation Programme (MTP) recently examined the potential for developing water quality standards for non-potable water (rainwater and greywater) (MTP 2007). This work was carried out by the Buildings Services Research and Information Association (BSRIA) and built on principles discussed in the Buildings that Save Water (BTSW) project (CIRIA 2001). The MTP report recommends that the guidelines should be based on the Bathing Water Directives (1975 and 2006) and identifies different guidelines for different end uses (see Table 1).

Statutory Instrument 2000 No. 3184 ( 14

Environment Agency Greywater: an information guide 11

The three microbiological water quality indicators suggested are those used in the Bathing Water Directives. These are: • • • Total coliforms Escherichia coli Enterococci.

The report also identifies a ‘traffic light’ system for interpreting the guidelines (see Table 1). The MTP guidelines identify three categories of water quality required depending on the risk associated with the intended use. • • Category A External cleansing requires the highest level of water quality as this usage creates aerosols that can be inhaled, increasing the risk of pathogens entering the body. Category B Drip irrigation allows considerably more bacteria per 100 ml than Category A because human exposure is lower. It also does not require the water to be as clear as required for Category A. Category C WC flushing allows the same level of bacterial contamination as Category B, but allows a higher residual chlorine or bromine concentration. It also specifies how clear the water should be because the water has to be visually and practically acceptable for toilet flushing.

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Table 1: MTP proposed guidelines for the water quality of non-potable water from rainwater and greywater

Source: MTP (2007)

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4.2 Water fittings
As recycled greywater will not be of drinking water quality, it is important to manage the risk of cross-contamination with the drinking water supply appropriately. This risk is higher in systems designed to serve more than one property because the recycled water network is more complex. At a site in Holland in 2001, for example, an accidental cross-connection was made between the potable water supply and a communal non-potable supply intended for garden watering, toilet flushing and laundry use. It was a week before this error was identified and it caused an outbreak of gastroenteritis in about 200 people (CRC 2003). This example is a reminder of the importance of protecting the mains water supply from contamination and ensuring cross connections are not made between potable and non-potable water. The Water Supply (Water Fittings) Regulations 199915 govern the protection of the mains water supply in England and Wales. They apply to all plumbing systems, water fittings and equipment supplied from the public water supply. Greywater systems nearly always feature a mains back-up so they can be topped up with mains water should demand for treated greywater be greater than supply. Where this is the case, a suitable type AA, AB or AD air gap16 must be used to ensure there is a physical separation between the greywater and the mains water to prevent contamination of the mains supply. To manage the risk of accidental cross-connections between potable and non-potable supplies, it is important to follow the good practice described in Guidance on Marking and Identification of Pipework for Reclaimed (Greywater) Systems produced by the Water Regulations Advisory Scheme (WRAS) (WRAS 1999). Figure 3 shows the suggested labelling of internal pipes, containing reclaimed water. Figure 3: Suggested labelling of internal pipes containing reclaimed water

Source: WRAS (1999)

The WRAS guidelines also recommend reclaimed water pipeline apparatus is identified on marker plates through colour coding and wording (i.e. RECLAIMED WATER in black letters on a green background). An example is shown in Figure 4.
Statutory Instrument 1999 No. 1148 ( and Statutory Instrument 1999 No. 1506 ( 16 As defined in Defra guidance – see

14 Environment Agency Greywater: an information guide

Figure 4: Typical reclaimed water marker plate as shown in the WRAS guidelines

Source: WRAS (1999)

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5. Cost-effectiveness
The cost-effectiveness of greywater systems is as variable as the systems themselves. The amount of money saved will depend on: • • • volume of water saved; price of the mains water replaced; costs of installing, running and maintaining the greywater system.

If you use a large volume of water to irrigate your garden and you purchase a simple system to divert cooled bath water, you could make substantial savings with very little capital investment. In contrast, if you install an expensive ‘bio-mechanical’ greywater system just for toilet flushing in your house, you are unlikely to see any return on your investment. Before investing in a greywater system, it is worth calculating what sort of savings you are likely to see on your water bill. A simple cost savings calculation can be carried out using standard usage figures for toilets (see Table 2). You can adapt the calculation to reflect your individual situation by adjusting occupancy, toilet flush volume and the cost of water and sewerage in your area (or adding outdoor use). If you add outdoor use, make sure that the supply of greywater is sufficient to meet your projected demand. Table 2 shows: • • how much money could be saved if the demand for toilet flushing in a typical 2.4 person household was met entirely by treated greywater; effect of moving to best practice low flush toilets also supplied by treated greywater.

Cost savings have been estimated using the charges made by two water and sewerage companies representing the higher and lower ends of the range of water charges in England and Wales. Payback periods are calculated by comparing the savings to an estimated initial investment. Demand data are based on consumption and frequency of use data from Assessing the Cost of Compliance with the Code for Sustainable Homes (Environment Agency 2007). The cost of greywater systems is variable, but £2,500 for purchase and £500 for installation (total; £3,000) are conservative figures and suitable for a ballpark calculation based on an individual domestic system. The cost of communal systems will be more variable. Installation costs could be lower if incorporated into construction, but could be significantly higher in complex retrofit installations. These calculations ignore maintenance and running costs, which will inevitably increase payback periods. These costs are excluded as they depend on the type of system and are not well known. Where the requirement for outdoor water use is significant, savings could be greater than those indicated – assuming the supply of greywater is sufficient to meet demand. At a flow rate of 9 litres per minute, a hosepipe can use 540 litres of water per hour. Where there is significant demand for garden irrigation, which was previously met by mains water, savings could be significantly higher and payback periods shorter. For more information on how to reduce water use in the garden, see chapter 6 of our publication, Conserving Water in Buildings.17


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Table 2: Example cost savings from greywater systems in areas with different water charges Low water/wastewater charges* Standard toilet 6.0 4.8 2.4 11.5 69.1


High water/wastewater charges** Standard toilet 6.0 4.8 2.4 11.5 69.1 25.2 4.00 101.20 3,000 30 Low flush toilet 4.5 4.8 2.4 11.5 51.8 18.9 4.00 75.90 3,000 40

Low flush toilet 4.5 4.8 2.4 11.5 51.8 18.9 1.40 27.00 3,000 111

Litres per flush Flushes/person/day Number of occupants Total flushes/day Daily use (litres)*** Annual water use (m ) Unit cost of water supply and wastewater treatment (£/m3) Estimated cost savings from greywater (£/year) Cost of greywater system (£) Payback (years)

25.2 1.40 36.10 3,000 83

* South West Water (2007-08 measured charges) ** Thames Water (2007-08 measured charges) *** Systems that use chemical disinfection may not be appropriate for garden irrigation as high disinfectant concentrations can damage plants.

Because water charges vary across the country, a greywater system installed in an area with high water charges such as south-west England will have a significantly shorter payback period than a similar system (with similar usage) installed in an area with lower water charges. Charges tend to increase year on year and this will decrease payback times. As with everything mechanical, there is the risk of failure and a requirement for servicing. Given the lengthy payback periods, any significant maintenance or repair costs will have a major impact on cost savings. There are also running costs to consider such as chemicals or energy for treatment and pumping respectively. Payback periods may be longer than the operational life of the system. Indeed the individual who made the initial investment may have moved house before the payback is realised. One way of making greywater systems more cost-effective is to use a communal system. This spreads the costs of installation, operation and maintenance and therefore allows a more intensive (expensive) treatment process. It also smoothes out supply and demand (by avoiding specific usage variations) and allows a formal maintenance and servicing contract to be set up. Energy use could also be reduced by installing bigger, more efficient pumps and treatment processes. For all these reasons, communal systems probably make more financial sense than individual systems. Unfortunately there is a lack of detailed case studies on communal greywater systems. A guide published by the Construction Industry Research & Information Association (CIRIA) provides basic advice on the use and development of model operation and maintenance agreements for rainwater and greywater systems, together with simple guidance on their incorporation into developments (CIRIA 2004). This guide can be purchased from the CIRIA website.18


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Installation during construction makes systems more cost-effective; the costs of retrofitting can be very high and the process disruptive. Many existing properties in England and Wales may also be unsuitable for greywater systems that require a large area to house them (e.g. AquaCycle® 900). Although the cost-effectiveness of greywater systems is variable, this option is likely to become more attractive in future due to: • • • increasing cost of water; the increasing popularity of greywater systems; decreasing costs of greywater systems.

The economics of communal systems could potentially be significantly more favourable and there may be potential for the deployment of greywater systems at this scale.

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6. Energy
The seemingly ludicrous practice of using water treated to drinking quality to flush the toilet is part of the appeal of greywater recycling systems. Surely treating water to drinking water quality and then flushing it down the toilet is a huge waste of energy and unnecessarily adds to carbon emissions? But due to efficiencies of scale, the process of treating, supplying and distributing mains water is more efficient than you might think. During 2006/2007, for example, it required 559 kWh of electricity to abstract, treat and supply the average mega litre (Ml - one million litres) of water to households in the UK (WaterUK 2007). This is equivalent to 0.559 kWh/m3 (1 m3 = 1,000 litres). To take this water away and treat it used a further 756 kWh/Ml or 0.756 kWh/m3. In general, the higher the standard of water quality required the more energy intensive the process. Therefore using cooled bath water to irrigate the garden in place of mains water will save energy. But using a bio-mechanical system to treat greywater will generally use more energy than if mains water was used instead. Table 3 compares energy consumption when using mains water and treated greywater for toilet flushing in a typical household. It makes the same usage assumptions as those in chapter 5. The greywater system considered in Table 3 is the WME-4 (see section 2.5) for which the 19 3 manufacturer’s literature quotes energy use as 3.5 kWh/m . This system uses an intensive process to achieve high quality water and therefore its power consumption will be higher than that of simpler systems. Only the energy use of this system is considered here due to the lack of data for other greywater treatment systems. Table 3: Comparison of energy use from mains water and treated greywater* Mains water** Standard toilet 6.0 4.8 2.4 11.5 69.1 25.2 1.3 33.2 Low flush toilet 4.5 4.8 2.4 11.5 51.8 18.9 1.3 24.9 Greywater Standard toilet 6.0 4.8 2.4 11.5 69.1 25.2 3.5 88.3 Low flush toilet 4.5 4.8 2.4 11.5 51.8 18.9 3.5 66.2

Appliance Litres per flush Flushes/person/day Number of occupants Total flushes/day Daily use (litres) Annual water use for appliance (m3) Energy per cubic metre Energy used (kWh)

* Energy use includes supply and treatment for mains water and only the energy used internally in the treatment of greywater. ** Energy data from WaterUK (2007).

Table 3 shows that using greywater to flush toilets may not be an energy (and therefore carbon) saving technology. While substituting mains water with treated greywater for toilet flushing will inevitably save water, it will have other trade-offs which should be considered on an individual basis.


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However, the amount of energy used by even the most complex greywater systems is small compared with the energy used to heat water in the home. Heating water for domestic uses, such as showering and bathing currently contributes about 5 per cent of the UK’s annual greenhouse gas emissions. That is seven times more than the contribution from the water industry.20 If you are primarily interested in saving energy, you should target excessive use of heated water. Many water efficiency measures such as aerating shower heads (which use less water but give the illusion of ‘high flow’) are simple and cheap to install and use. These will save a significant amount of heated water and therefore energy. Although greywater and rainwater can be used either at a community or individual household level to meet non-potable water needs, simple water efficiency measures should be considered first. Water recycling and reuse involves trade-offs between water use, energy use (for high-tech solutions) and land use (for low-tech solutions). These must be balanced against water savings to ensure a sensible approach to water management (Environment Agency 2006). As technologies improve and mains water becomes more expensive, this balance may well shift in favour of greywater recycling and rainwater harvesting.


20 Environment Agency Greywater: an information guide

7. Conclusions
• Greywater systems may become more common in the UK driven by: – Code for Sustainable Homes; – increasing cost of water; – increasing awareness of the importance of conserving water. Greywater systems vary in complexity from simple systems with minimal treatment and storage to more complex systems that can treat greywater to a standard sufficient to allow extended storage. While some simple systems have clear benefits, more complex ones have other trade-offs such as energy use (for high-tech options) and space (for intensive biological options). There are currently no water quality standards in place for treated greywater. However, there are guidelines based on the Bathing Waters Directives which relate to the intended use of the recycled water. Even the most intensive greywater treatment will not generally produce water suitable for drinking. It is therefore important that: – the water fittings regulations are followed to avoid contamination of the mains water supply; – WRAS guidance on pipe labelling is followed to avoid cross connections. The reliability of greywater systems remains largely unproven and maintenance costs are uncertain. Greywater systems can have lengthy payback periods. These vary depending on demand for non-potable water and local water charges. Payback periods may be shorter in future as systems become cheaper and water charges increase. It is better to install greywater systems during construction or refurbishment, as retrofitting is costly and disruptive. Communal systems avoid many of the issues associated with individual installations. They can offer improved supply/demand balance, superior water quality, superior system reliability (through better maintenance) and more reliable cost savings. However, public acceptability and an increased risk of cross connections need to be taken into account. Greywater can provide a more reliable and consistent supply of non-potable water than rainwater harvesting. Greywater recycling does not necessarily save energy. To save energy, it is better to focus on water efficiency and specifically on reducing the volume of hot water used. Using untreated greywater in place of mains water for garden irrigation saves energy and water, but it must not be stored for long. Remember: reduce, reuse, recycle. When looking to reduce water consumption, start with simple water efficiency measures.

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Environment Agency Greywater: an information guide 21

8. References
• Centre for the Study of the Built Environment (CSBE), 2003 Greywater Reuse in Other Countries and its Applicability to Jordan. Amman: CSBE. Available from: [Accessed 14 April 2008]. CIRIA, 2001 Rainwater and Greywater Use in Buildings: Project Results From The Buildings that Save Water Project. Best Practice Guidance. C539. London: CIRIA. CIRIA, 2004 Model Agreements for Sustainable Water Management Systems. Model Agreement for Rainwater and Greywater Use Systems. C626. London: CIRIA. CRC Water Quality and Treatment, 2003 Setback for Netherlands Dual Supplies Health Stream, Issue 30, 5, June 2003. Available from: [Accessed 14 April 2008]. Environment Agency, 2006 Water Related Infrastructure for Sustainable Communities. Technological Options and Scenarios for Infrastructure Systems. Science Report SC050025. Bristol: Environment Agency. Environment Agency, 2007 Assessing the Cost of Compliance with the Code for Sustainable Homes. Bristol: Environment Agency. Hills S, Birks R, Diaper C and Jeffrey P, 2002 An Evaluation of Single-house Greywater Recycling Systems. Reading: Thames Water Utilities. Available from: [Accessed 14 April 2008], Jeffrey P, 2002 Public attitudes to in-house water recycling in England and Wales, Journal of the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management, 16, 214-217. Market Transformation Programme (MTP), 2007 Rainwater and Grey Water: Review of Water Quality Standards and Recommendations for the UK. Ministry of Agriculture, Natural Resources & Environment (MOA), 2002 Use and Conservation of Water in Cyprus. Nicosia, Cyprus: Ministry of Agriculture, Natural Resources & Environment, Water Development Department. Available from: 049E412/$file/pages%201-19%20(0.84MB).pdf [Accessed 14 April 2008]. National Water Demand Management Centre (NWDMC), 2000 A Study of Domestic Greywater Recycling. Worthing: Environment Agency. Ofwat, 2005 International Comparison of Water and Sewerage Service. London: Ofwat. Ofwat, 2007 Security of Supply 2006-07 Report. London: Ofwat. Po M, Kaercher J D and Nancarrow B E, 2003 Literature Review of Factors Influencing Public Perceptions of Water Reuse. CSIRO Land and Water, Technical Report 54/03. Available from: [Accessed 14 April 2008]. WaterUK, 2007 Sustainability Indicators 2006/07: UK water industry sustainability indicators. London: WaterUK. Available from: [Accessed 14 April 2008]. • • •

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22 Environment Agency Greywater: an information guide

Water Regulations Advisory Scheme (WRAS), 1999 Marking and Identification of Pipework for Reclaimed (Greywater) Systems. WRAS Information and Guidance Note No 9-02-05. Gwent: WRAS. Available from: [Accessed 14 April 2008].

Environment Agency Greywater: an information guide 23

9. Glossary of terms
AA air gap The inlet supply of potable water to any cistern containing rainwater, greywater or reclaimed water must be protected by an air gap suitable for protection against a Class 5 risk [see Water Supply (Water Fittings) Regulations 1999]. A fixed container for holding water to be used as toilet flush water. Bacteria found in the intestines, faeces, nutrient-rich waters, soil and decaying plant matter. Pipes carrying non-potable water connected to pipes carrying mains water. A member of the coliform group of bacteria. Unlike total coliforms, E. coli are almost exclusively of faecal origin. The presence of E. coli is therefore a strong indicator of faecal contamination. A group of bacteria commonly found in the bowel of normal healthy individuals. Another strong indicator of faecal contamination. Wastewater from showers, baths, washbasins, washing machines and kitchen sinks. Utilising untreated greywater for purposes that do not require potable water quality. Utilising treated greywater for purposes that do not require potable water quality. The bacterium, Legionella pneumophila, can cause legionnaires' disease (lung infection) in humans. Water that is not treated to sufficient quality for drinking. Water that is treated to sufficient quality for drinking. Cistern Coliforms

Cross-contamination Escherichia coli



Greywater reuse

Greywater recycling


Non-potable water Potable water/mains water

24 Environment Agency Greywater: an information guide


List of abbreviations
biochemical oxygen demand Building Services Research and Information Association Buildings That Save Water [project] Construction Industry Research and Information Association Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs megalitres Market Transformation Programme ultraviolet Water Regulations Advisory Scheme

Environment Agency Greywater: an information guide 25

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