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Design #3

Grey-water and Compost systems

This design is a look into waste management.

It is one of the most controversial issues that we face as a society today. With the ever increasing throw-away culture that we have adopted, how do we manage and reduce our waste!

On average, according to the Department for Environment, food and Rural Affairs on the UK's waste, the British recycle 45.7% of their house hold waste (WFH – waste from households) but as householders we generate more than a tonnes of waste every year, that puts around 31 million tonnes of into landfills. Commercial and Industrial waste (C&I) on the other hand exceeds 40 million tonnes!

In Spain it is a disaster! According to EL PAIS's Manuel Planells 29% of WFH is recycled and these statistics have remained the same since 2010. In 2015 the Spanish dumped a whopping 56.7% of waste in land fills and only 43% of their waste recycled or reused. With the coming EU regulation that by 2025, 55% of all municipal waste has to be recycled the Spanish need to pull up their socks


In the last few years I have seen a remarkable increase in recycling bins and a lot less fly-tipping, something that when I arrived here 15 years ago seemed to be everywhere. Consciousness is growing and the place is a lot tidier for it. Maybe they will meet the EU quota!

“Recycling is the pillar of circular economy” and as any permaculturist knows a closed loop system is an effective system.


What is waste?

  • Plastics – packaging, containers, toys, paint, things (so many things!!!)

  • Paper - magazines, dailies, packaging, bills, toilet paper

  • Fabrics - clothing, bedding, etc.

  • Glass - bottles, glasses

  • Household waste - food stuffs, water, sewage

  • Garden waste – leaves, weeds, sticks etc.

  • Construction waste – metal, wood, aggregates, windows

  • Electronics - appliances, phone, Computers, cables

  • Fuel – petrol/diesel, Gas, oil

Where does this lead me?

I wanted to look at the different types of waste I generate and the ways that it is used on the site. To see which is the most important I looked first into all the different waste I make.

My Household Waste Chart
Household waste identification 1.jpg
Household waste identification 2.jpg

The house is on agricultural land 3km’s away from the nearest village waste collection units (bins!), recycling points and sewage treatment plant. There is no rubbish collection from the house, all house hold waste must be transported to the nearest bin 2.5 km away. I do not have a septic tank or soak-away, and I do not want one.

Although I was interested in reducing my waste in general, essentially the amount of plastics I bring home, that can not be re-purposed on site, ending up in the recycling bin. I wanted to focus on wastes that I could turn into resources, to be used in a closed loop system.

In this Design I have focused on wastes that are normally treated in off-site treatment plants, household food waste, garden waste, black gold (poo) and grey-water, with one basic function, to reuse these waste products and change them into viable resources that can be reused creating closed loop systems.

Greywater and compost.jpg
Mind map of grey-water and compost

Although these designs have the same end results (resources to be used on the land) their journey is different.

I will divide this design into two parts;

Design 3:1



What is Grey-water?

  • Waste water from; basin, shower, bath, kitchen sink, washing machine and pee toilet.

  • Water that has trace elements in it including; shampoo, conditioner, soap, washing-up liquid and cleaning products, (all of which should be ecological and free from SLS’s), Urine and traces of food.

  • Water that can be used in an irrigation system for fruit trees and plants.​

Why use grey-water?

  • The property is situated 2.6 km away from the nearest village and its treatment plant.

  • Its helps to reduce the use of the overloaded treatment plants and the contamination of natural waters with poorly treated effluent.

  • Taking the grey-water out of treatment plants extends their service life and capacity.

  • Using grey water can save you money and increase effective water supply, by not using drinking water to irrigate the land.

  • Puts less strain on ground-waters by recharging the natural store in the ground.

  • Encourages the use of less toxic chemicals in the house (i.e. soaps and cleaning products) and on the land (fertilisers).

  • Purification of the water is more effective in topsoil than in treatment centres and the reclamation of nutrients in grey water can maintain the lands fertility.

  • Where irrigation is not available grey-water is a fantastic resource for creating a flourishing landscape of fruit trees and plants that can provide us food and an increased awareness of water cycles.

  • A grey-water system is more practical where it is too hard to dig into the ground (or in my case no ground to dig into) to sink a septic tank.​

Key functions

Grey-water systems takes dirty water and using a system of filtration cleans it then distributes it to water and feed plants, fruit and other trees.

Elements in my system

  • Source- shower, basin, kitchen sink, and pee toilet. The washing machine is on a separate system that waters another planting bed.

  • Plumbing from house with partial filter for food scrapes.

  • Tank; reed-bed to filter and clean water, I do not need a pump as it will be gravity feed.

  • Distribution plumbing i.e. irrigation.

  • Receiving landscape; soil, trees, plants.

  • People; Designer. Who uses the water? Who will maintain the system? Yields: fruits etc.

Limiting Factors:

  • Site on steep slope of bed-rock.

  • Collecting of materials- What is needed?

      • Can I use hydrated lime instead of cement? If so how long does it need to set before you can add plants to the tanks?

  • Needs to be completed by February 2015.

  • Use design as an open group work day.

  • What do I get the group to do? Should I have the tanks made and get help to fill them?​​​



To create different types of grey water systems according to level of use.

Turn a waste product into a helpful and essential component in the function of the garden, by add nutrients and using water in a multi use system.

Permaculture Principles and Ethics:

By observing the amount of waste that is produced, I can identify the different systems which can be employed in these situations: the amount of use the system will have to handle will define the design, for example:

  • The house will have to be able to cope with large flow of water, will determine its size. Placing it below the house allows gravity flow, discarding the use of pumps. This system needs to cater for up to 6 people, and should be designed as a complex system.

  • The cabin will have a small water flow, 2 people at a time, allowing a more simplistic or direct water-filtration system.

Waste water holds many nutrients which can be used to feed beneficial microbes in the soil, where they will be stored and then released to feed the plants and trees and eventually insects, small mammals and produce a yield for ourselves.

Determining the needs of the applied system and not trying to create an overly complicated design where it is not needed will Produce no Waste. With the maintenance for the system, I will be able to monitor how well these system work, i.e. If they smell there is something wrong.

By creating these simple biological systems, anyone who visits the farm can see how our waste can be turned into a usable and valuable resource, this will hopefully educate others to value and integrate these techniques into their lives, which, not only support ourselves and the natural world around us but, showing that these approaches work in an intelligent, positive and efficient way.


  • Reuse of water and water saving

  • Irrigation of fruit trees in dry climate

  • Nutrients in the water feed trees and plants

  • Turning the area into a self supporting system of diversity


  • An efficient way of reusing our waste

  • Using the waste water to feed fruit trees which in turn bare fruit for us to eat

  • Aesthetic, in a system that is much more pleasant than septic tanks and/or big treatment plants


  • Takes waste out of an already over loaded sewage system

  • Shows people there is a different more effective way to use our water waste


There are two locations for designing grey-water systems:

  • The house with an occupancy of between 3 and 5 people, will need a complex filtration design, with a series of anaerobic and aerobic tanks that will take away pathogens and re-activate the water, finally to end up watering the fruit trees on the terrace below.

  • The cabin would not need a complex design, with a total of two people at a time so I decided to make it a direct source system.

Grey-water function systems elements.jpg

 The Cabin - Grey-water

Client: Myself
Location: Finca Florecer, Cabin
Date Started: April 2013
Date Completed June 2013
Design Process: SADIM


Citrus-veg garden 02, Feb 2012.JPG

The location is a dry rocky terrace with one olive tree, situated south of the cabin one terrace down. It is hot and devoid of vegetation and has been used in the past as a park up for my friends live-in truck, my caravan and a parking space. The rotary washing line was there for a while.


  • Water to be directed from the cabin using a direct feed system.

  • Not high usage

  • Flow can be erratic when the cabin is not occupied in low season.

Grey-water, Cabin, Elevation.jpg


The cabin grey water is attached to the Citrus garden design (Design #5), the first steps to undertake were to try and work around the bed rock.

Grey water cabin.jpg


With the help from volunteers Rosie and her daughter Merry. we marked out the area and using flexible 50 mm pipe, we worked around the bed rock to find the deeper patches of earth. 

I had chosen to plant citrus trees as they would like the higher volumes of urea, in the waste water, in fact they would thrive off it with out me needing to add it to the soil  The out-let from the cabin comes into a distribution tank that is split into three flexible 50 mm pipes each leading to a citrus tree. two mandarin Trees at the top  then an orange and a grapefruit, at the lowest point a lemon tree.

In the distribution chamber we deposited a bag of straw to catch any larger particles that would block up the pipes.

After this was all laid we covered over the pipes with soil and laid an access path of old tiles. 

The surrounding area was then seeded with lentils for soil conditioning and shallots to protect the trees from ants and  beetroot and carrot seeds that I had to use up.

The garden was successful by using the grey-water in a very simple way. The trees have matured and we have little problems with the system getting overloaded.  I had to make a wired basket for the distribution chamber enabling me to change the straw more easily. as although the guest are requested to put the toilet paper into the bin, accidents do happen.

The garden it's self developed over time to fit into Japanese Bath-house (Design #5).


The House - Grey-water

Client: Myself
Location: Finca Florecer, House
Date Started: December 2014
Date Completed: March 2015
Design Process: SADIM
june 2010 023.jpg

The area is situated on a thin rocky out-crop the terrace below the house. There is a stubby bit of carob trunk just to the left of the site and shrubby plants are growing in pockets of soil. The area is secluded and sheltered by 2 large carob trees on the terrace below.

The terrace below has been planted with fruit trees.

  • Steep rocky out crop

  • South facing

  • No soil

  • Down hill from house

  • Little to no plants


It is estimated that in a normal household, each person can use between 300 and 575 litres of water a day.

This means a family of 4 could consume between 8'400 and 16'110 litres a week, OMG!!!

With this information I looked a bit closer into the amount of water we as a family.

per person                                              per day               Per week           Family x3               volunteers x2

Shower 5 mins (8 LTR per min) (x3)                                              105                 315                          560

Teeth clean                                                       1                         7                   21                            56

Toilet (low flush 5 LTR) (x4)                                 20                     140                 420                            40

Drinking and cooking                                         5                       35                 105                            70

Washing machine(15 min A+++20 LTR) (x4)                                   80                   80                            40

washing up (2x8 LTR bowls)                               16                     112                 112                          112

                                                                     42                    479                1053                         878

As a family I calculated that we use around 1'053 LTR a week.

When we have volunteers staying this gets raised to about 2'000 LTR a week.

Calculating the size of the tank needs to clean the maximum of 300 LTR of water a day.

The waste water could be cleaned using an anaerobic/aerobatic system. This would not only be an efficient way to clean the water but also nice to look at and an inspiring design that I could show works for the average home.

The house having to accommodate a higher volume of waste water would need a more complex system.

Bed 1- reeds for cleaning and aeration →

Bed 2- Canna lilies for water purification →

Fish pond - good water indicator and fertiliser for plants →

Over flow into buried irrigation pipes set onto contour with the fruit trees, gravelling above the pipe to create a pathway through the orchard.

Grey water design, house.jpg

After cleaning the rock from stones, earth and plants. I started to build the retaining wall using rocks from around the area, binding them a cement mortar. At the lowest level of the chamber I inserted an out-let pipe for clearing out the chamber if needed.

Just before top of the the wall, where I wanted the water level, I installed 3 out-let pipes which would be just below the surface of the gravel.

When I finished the wall, I rendered the inside with a cement/sand mix and then sealed it by painting on 3 layers of a cement slurry, each layer being brushed on in a different direction.

I checked that it would hold water before starting to fill with different sizes of stone. Filling up 1 3rd of the tank with the first layer of 40 mm stones, On top of this I put an inspection tank with a filter that could catch larger particles and act as a grease trap. The next layer of 10-20 mm gravel, filled up the next 3rd to planting depth.

The plants I selected when would be good water cleaners and survive in a low nutrient based system.

I chose Canna lilies, a river reed from a local river at the bottom of my friends land that had been dug up due to a reorientation of flow and a bull rush, from my pond, These were covered in a mulch layer of more 40mm stone.

The out-let pipes were joined to a pipe that went down to the terrace below. With help from the local permaculture community we cleared and added an irrigation channel to The Orchard (Design #2:3).


I haven't had the time to start the next two stages of the grey-water system yet. The system even with out the other two tanks works very well, The plants are growing well and other plants have found their way in, including various vegetables such as tomatoes and cucumbers which have done remarkable well. I had to change the home made inspection box for one that was made redundant for the pool, This does not get so blocked up and with a wire basket filled with straw can be changed regularly.

I will carry on with the design in time, 

3:2 Compost


Client: Myself
Location: Finca Florecer
Date Started: December 2011
Date Completed: On going...
Design Process: CEAP

What is compost?

Composting is a natural process of biological decomposition of organic matter to turn it into a soil conditioner.

Why Compost?

  • To take waste products from the garden, orchard, house, livestock, and turn it into a usable material, instead of filling up landfills

  • Saves money, time and transport costs by eliminating the need to by it off-site

  • Reduced carbon emissions for all the reasons above.

  • The finished product contains rich food that can feed the soil allowing plants to draw up the goodness

  • When add to soil it builds humus which holds water and saves on irrigation

  • Can be used in many ways; soil conditioning, mulching, weed suppression

The local practice in this area is to burn all waste materials collected from the trees and to spray the ground with herbicide to irradiate all under-story herbs citing their mantra “Mas limpio – Mas facil”. In our extreme environment it is detrimental to the earth to treat it in this way.

With the hot sun, the earth is baked solid and then the winds come and blow the top layers away. When the rains arrive at full force the erosion levels are multiplied. Instead of burning these useful resources which they consider waste and mess.

We can use them in many different ways to alleviate these disruptive forces of nature:

  • Add on to the soil to suppress unwanted plants and aid root growth

  • Woodchip tree and shrub prunings and use them to cover exposed soil to shaded it from sun and protected it from erosion. Into one place, which stops it being a fire hazard

  • Aid humus levels to retain moisture during drought periods


Key functions:

To take waste material from household and garden and through the process of decomposition, change it into a usable component for the fertilisation, soil improvement, control erosion and creative habitats for insects and wild life on the property.

Elements in my system:

Composting can happen in several ways. Depending on the site, it's resources and it's needs defines the system that I have used.

  • Cold compost - Cold composting is perhaps the simplest method of composting, but it takes a considerable amount of time and does not kill weed seeds. Using the cold composting method, the gardener simply continues to add layers to the top of the compost pile without turning it.

  • Mulching - On the Zone 3 - 4 terraces. Produce mulches via wood-chipping from the waste materials gained form those areas.

  • In-situ composting area, I will in time use these areas as planting beds.

  • Toilet compost - contains the waste of approximately 4 people on an average daily basic. Which is contained in the composting box for approximately 12 months. Then it's taken out and stacked between layers of wet straw for another 6 months before being applied to the olive trees as fertiliser.

  • The Chickens (Design 4) have their own composting wheelie-bin which uses their waste and the left-over vegetable waste with a brown mix of cardboard. This can be taken out and used to activate other composts.

  • Hot compost – What I aim for but hard to achieve due to the woody nature of my waste.

  • Liquid fertilisers – Made of chicken manure and other beneficial plants such as nettles.

Permaculture Principles and Ethics


  • Produce compost which will build soil and it's nutrients – Catch and store energy and Obtain a yield

  • Turn waste materials in to a valuable resource – Use and value renewable resources and Produce no waste.

  • Stop the need to burn waste material – Integrate rather than segregate, Apply self-regulation and creatively respond to change

  • Teach others the art and value of composting – Observe and interact, accept feedback ,value renewable resources and services, catch and store energy and obtain a yield.



  • Reuse of water and water saving.

  • Irrigation of fruit trees in dry climate

  • Participial in water feed trees and plants

  • using an area that can not be used to anything else


  • An efficient way of reusing our waste.

  • Using the waste water to feed fruit trees which in turn bare fruit for us to eat.

  • Aesthetic, in a system that is much more pleasant than septic tanks and/or big treatment plants.


  • Takes waste out of an already over loaded sewage system.

  • Shows people there is a different more effective way to use our water waste.

Compost functions system Elements table
Compost systems functions and elements_e
Compost systems functions and elements 2

In the Herb garden (Design #2:2) there is a continuous cold compost that has been going for the last 5 years, it uses all wastes from the garden, with the only off-site component, a little animal manure add in. This is turned every 3 months to give it aeration and activation. Every 6 months it is sifted and the decomposed elements added to the garden, the rest is layered between the fresh plant trimmings to help activation.

The Orchard (Design #2:3) I use the technique of chip and mulch.

The house-hold waste is feed to the chickens.

The chicken manure (design #4) is combined with the humanure (JBH Design #5) and straw and left for one year and then used as a fertiliser for the olive and fruit trees.

The Veg garden (Design #2:4) waste is combined with the old mulch from the beds and is being used in an 'almost' hot compost, then added back to the beds every 6 months.

In Zone 3, The Olive Trees (Design #2:1) all wood prunings that are too small to save for fire wood are chipped and laid down under the trees as a weed suppressant.


I have not removed any organic waste from the land for years. This has meant that the waste products that have to be taken off-site are generally recyclable, saving a lot of space, time and eliminates very smelly rubbish.

In using the approaches in composting suitable for each area means I am not wasting energy in transporting compost around the farm. The different methods are in keeping to the needs of the area, such as the vegetable garden which need a richer and more decomposed compost for the annual vegetable to access quickly and a olive tree to have a slow decomposition to slow down the undergrowth.

Since I built the Natural Swimming Pool (Design #6), I have gained a much needed resource in excess water plants which when added to the vegetable waste has accelerated this compost system dramatically, This is for me one of the best things that has come out of the swimming pool.

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