KC Nattinger's picture
This five-gallon bucket is gonna save the world!
KC Nattinger
November 29, 2011 - 8:24am

I’ve been around the block when it comes to the three R’s (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle). Growing up, our household of 18 people created two paper grocery bags of trash a week. (My parents refused to even buy trash bags!) Summer fun was tearing down old houses by hand, and reusing the building supplies. My grandparents survived the great depression and taught me to never waste anything because you don’t know when you will be without. I know how to reuse everything the industrial revolution has produced, but when I arrived in San Francisco, I saw a technique for reusing water that was new to me—and yet so easy and effective that I think the world should know about it.

My new friend: The five-gallon bucket

I was temporarily staying at a house in Oakland and was impressed with its organization and cleanliness. One thing that puzzled me though: why leave three white plastic buckets in the bathroom, a place otherwise free of clutter? I didn’t have to look far for the answer: a sign on the wall informed me that these buckets were for re-using grey water. The idea seemed simple: fill a bucket with water as you shower, and then use it to flush the toilet. I figured I’d give it a try.

The next morning as I showered, I brought my new friend, the FIVE-GALLON WHITE BUCKET OF WATER REUSING MAGIC. I turned the water on, and as I waited for it to warm up, the bucket filled. Quickly realizing that I needed another friend, I swapped my first one for FIVE-GALLON WHITE BUCKET OF WATER REUSING MAGIC #2 and proceeded to shower. The bucket caught some, but not most, of the water that was washing the city grime off my body.

Then, later in the day when I was in need of flushing the toilet, I found that I was well supplied with “grey water,” this wonderful new renewable resource, to refill the toilet tank for the next person or flush the toilet. I felt a great deal of satisfaction knowing that at least today, seven liters of drinkable water were not wasted to go number two.

However, my joy was also filled with sadness, because I knew that most of the water I used in the shower did not end up in either FIVE-GALLON WHITE BUCKET OF WATER REUSING MAGIC, but instead went down the drain. Could I save this water as well? All I needed was a pipe that took the water from the shower drain to the bucket. A quick internet search showed me something surprising: construction companies are already building houses with pipes to take the grey water from the shower or kitchen sink to where it can be used again—for flushing toilets and irrigating gardens.

Not only does reusing grey water help the environment, these systems can save a considerable amount of money. If 50-80 percent of a household’s waste water is grey water—just think how much you could save on your water and sewage bill!

Reusing grey water is good for the environment, saves money, and with an initial investment of a few hundred dollars, happens without much human effort (no need for such friendly but time consuming inventions as the FIVE-GALLON WHITE BUCKET OF WATER REUSING MAGIC).

So why isn’t this a standard practice? The government has no trouble regulating how much insulation a house has—why not require the plumbing system of every house to reuse its grey water?

Regulating the use of grey water 

Every state has a different set of regulations regarding grey water. The states that have the simplest and most supportive laws include Arizona and New Mexico—states that have significant water shortages. Some states, like Utah and Colorado, have laws that outright ban the reuse of grey water. And other states, like California, have laws that make it too complex and expensive for most people to install grey water systems.

This simple way to reuse water should be in every home. Like recycling aluminum cans, reusing water is a small step, but if everyone did it, we could make a big difference. Just make room and shower with a new friend...the FIVE-GALLON WHITE BUCKET!

Also, grab additional resources and tips on how you can Reduce, Reuse and Recycle at home and in the classrom at MyGarbology!


Robin's picture

I am SO trying this out!