Water and waste management

Most of us take for granted that we turn on a tap and water gushes out, or we flush the toilet and that is the end of the matter ! Living off – grid brings home the reality of not only sourcing water but also managing our wastes. This section is really about living off-grid as living on grid decisions are usually out of your hands, other than perhaps conserving and recycling water and with more frequent hosepipe bans then water conservation is rising up the political agenda


  • This will vary hugely depending upon where you live, however if you draw water from the surface or underground purely for domestic purposes then you are unlikely to require a licence - in the UK you only need a licence if you are going to abstract more than 4000 gallons per day. However, always check with the local authorities
  • If you are lucky enough to have your own source of water, then it is a good idea to have it tested on a regular basis to ensure that it is safe, particularly if you are planning to drink it. Environmental regulations don’t usually apply to private springs and wells, but always check, as it isn’t a good idea to even inadvertently poison family and friends!
  • Water does not need to be safe for drinking in order for you to use it around the house and garden. Water that is not potable can still be used to water the garden, bathe in, toilet flushing ,for washing, this saves having to  install expensive water filtration systems
  • Likewise rainwater can be collected and used for most things other than drinking. If you live in a wet area and have a large collection area– that is a large roof, ( and perhaps don’t have another source of water) then it may be worth investing in a commercial rainwater harvesting system. The main problem with rainwater is that it contains organic matter and usually goes rancid after a time, so if it is to be stored then it needs filtering at the very least. If you don’t have or need such a system, it is still worthwhile installing a few water butts to collect rainwater off the roofs you do have, you will be surprised how much rain falls on even a small garden shed or green house
  • Depending upon the condition of the incoming water , then some simple filtration may be necessary to remove the worst of any organic matter or suspended solids. Simple  in-line commercial filters are available and will improve the quality of the water greatly, this may be important if the water has to be pumped, as pumps don’t like dirty water. A home-made  slow sand filter is one of the easiest and most effective methods of cleaning water, especially as bacteria can be removed by this method.  This method is used widely throughout the developing world.


  • It is important when you live off-grid to firstly minimise the amount of water you use, on average in the UK, 150 litres per person per day is used, and that goes up to over 450 litres in the USA!
  • Conduct a water audit – find out what, where and how much you use – you will be surprised!
  • Water use can be dramatically reduced by putting a few simple measures in place:
    Change your behaviour! Don’t leave the tap running losing up to 20 litres per minute
    Install flow restrictors or similar on all taps
    Reduce the amount of water flushed by the toilet
    Installing a compost toilet
    Fix leaks
    Always have a full load before using any appliance


  • Recycling water is not usually worthwhile if you are on mains water, however if you are off-grid then there are benefits
  • Grey water is the waste water from the house – except toilet waste – that includes waste from the kitchen, bathroom, washing machine etc and as such usually has a high organic content- such as hair, skin, grit, detergents, not to mention high levels of grease
  • A simple off grid system first requires all the solids to be removed – we use a grease trap – then the liquids are filtered through a reed bed system, the resulting water would then be suitable for garden irrigation, although not usually the veg patch!


  • Domestic waste is dramatically reduced when living a self-sufficient lifestyle – there is considerably less packaging for a start
  • With a little lateral thinking you will be amazed what can be reused!
  • Kitchen vegetable waste will go to either the animals or the compost heap,
  • Paper is first re-used then added to the compost , or made into logs for the fire
  • Plastic bottles make good mini-cloches
  • Toilet paper tubes make great bio-degradable plant pots


  • There are a number of ways of dealing with toilet waste
    Composting toilet
    Septic Tanks
    Reed Beds – require significant amounts of land

    All may require permission of some sort from your local authority so check with them first

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