How to recycle greywater at your cottage

Shower head

Water is a big deal at most cottages. A lot of cottage life revolves around swimming, fishing, water-skiing and a host of other outside water activities—but the water inside is just as important.  

If your cottage uses a well or cistern, you already know that your supply can dry up with a couple of ill-timed showers. And even if your cottage is lake-fed, you’ve probably heard about average water levels dropping.

So water is important. And what we do with it is even more important.

That’s why more cottagers are exploring greywater recycling. Greywater, which makes up 50 to 80 percent of household wastewater, is what’s left over after you have a shower, do the dishes, or wash your hands. (Water from the toilet is called blackwater, for understandable reasons.)

The idea behind greywater recycling is to take that not-quite-dirty water and use it for another purpose. This can be as simple as collecting the water from your sink after the dishes are done and using it to water your flowers—or, with a little technology, actually make greywater part of your overall water system.

First things first—greywater isn’t blackwater, but it can become dangerous if it’s not properly handled. If you’re going to store your greywater for any purpose, it needs to be treated or the bacteria in it will turn it into a nasty, septic mess.

One of the most common ways to recycle greywater is to install a system that diverts wash water from your shower, washing machine, and bathtub into your toilet. The used water is treated, then pumped into toilets.

For urban homes, the obvious benefit to a system like this is saving on ever-climbing water bills. For cottagers—many of whom don’t pay municipal water bills—there’s another, equally significant benefit.

“Greywater recycling reduces the amount of water that’s going into the septic tank—which means you can wait longer before emptying the tank,” explains John Bell, VP of business development for Greyter, a Toronto-based company that specializes in water recovery and reuse systems. “Toilets are one of the highest wasters of water in homes—and a greywater system can be a real money saver in a cottage where the toilets get a lot of use from guests.”

According to Bell, an indoor greywater system can also reduce the demand on a well—a boon for cottagers whose water supply can be unpredictable.

If you’re more of a DIY devotee, you can recycle your greywater for use as outdoor irrigation by diverting it to mulch beds or to a constructed wetland in your garden. As it is absorbed, the water is then naturally treated by the organisms in your topsoil, and irrigates the plants around it.

This isn’t a suitable option if your cottage is built on bedrock, without a good layer of topsoil. As well, the untreated greywater must not come into contact with humans—which means not using it to water vegetables and fruits that might be eaten raw, and not using it in a sprinkler. Water that has been used to wash dirty diapers is generally considered too dirty to use in a DIY system.

For most of us, the cottage wouldn’t be the same without water—use it wisely now, and there will be plenty left to enjoy later.