Grey Water at Blazing Swan

By February 5, 2017Principles, Theme Camp

What is grey water?

Grey water is water that has been used for cooking, washing, dish-washing, or bathing and contains soap, detergent, food scraps or food residue. Grey water disposal is a constant issue when living off-the-grid and adhering to a Leave No Trace (LNT) policy. If you’ve been to Burning Man or Blazing Swan before…you’ll have experienced the challenge of managing this waste product!

“Why can’t I just chuck it on the ground or down the toilets?” you ask.

This is an absolute no no! Blazing Swan has a contract with the landowners and have undertaken to ensure that we do not introduce any contaminants to the land (which, by the way, is used for crop farming). With around 3,000 people camping for 8 or more days, it would not take long before we created a biological environmental hazard with risk of unpleasant smells, infection and soil contamination. As for the porta-loos – each toilet serves 40 to 50 people, and can handle only pee, poop, and special toilet paper — absolutely nothing else. Toilets are for black water, not grey water. They get pumped out daily and the effluent is subject to highly regulated and costly treatment processes.

So…grey water is where Radical Self-Reliance meets Leave No Trace meets Civic Responsibility and the bottom line is: YOU made it – YOU pack it out.

I strongly recommend that your camp or theme camp has a grey water management plan before you arrive. This can be shared or be a specific task for one of your group…whatever you choose to do, make sure that you arrive equipped and prepared to manage your grey water.

There are three options when creating a grey water management plan for your stay in Jilakin Rock City, combining two or more of these will enable you to have an effective plan. These are:

  1. Pack It Out
  2. Make Less
  3. Evaporate It

Pack It Out

This involves making sure that you have enough containers to store you grey water in. You should be bringing enough water for your stay – around 7 liters per person per day for drinking, cooking and washing. Around two thirds of this will likely become grey water so you’ll need storage for around 40 liters per person for an 8 day stay.

The most effective way to store grey water is in a strong sealable container. It will need to survive your journey home. Caution: once you put grey water in them, your containers should never be used for anything else. Think about how you are bringing your water. If you buy the disposable water containers that require you to stab an air-hole in to make them work…they can’t be used for storage after. One way to manage this is to bring a designated water container with a tap. You can then refill it from your disposable containers, opening them so that they can be resealed once full of grey water.

Use a cable tie to secure a funnel to your grey water container so that you avoid spills. When full, seal and store in a shady place. Remember that water weighs approx. 1kg per 1l. Any storage container above 25l capacity will be too heavy to lift easily.

Make Less

The easiest grey water to dispose of is the grey water you don’t produce. These tips should help you produce less or ‘safer’ grey water:

  • Use an alcohol-based disinfectant lotion to wash your hands before you handle food.
  • Plan a menu that uses only one pot or frying pan each meal.
  • Plan meals that use tortilla wraps…no need for a plate!
  • For dish or wash soap, go eco-friendly.
  • In your kitchen area, set up a low-volume water spray over a basin, for dish-washing.
  • Wipe out dishes with paper towels before washing.
  • It’s possible to wash your body clean with a pint of water, soap and a cloth.

Evaporate It

Over many years at the Nevada burn…several innovative solutions to evaporating grey water have emerged. These are generically called ‘Evapotrons’. While this technology has not yet been tested in Jilakin Rock City…there are many awesome engineers within our community so who knows what the future may hold. Read more about evapotrons.


Take it home and flush down the toilet. Take it home and use it to water your garden. If you’ve treated the water with an oxidizing agent such as bleach etc…leave the container open for a couple of days as the chlorine content will mostly evaporate off. While there is a risk of some chlorine entering your garden…it is relatively low. See the UK Renewable Energy article below for more info.

Under no circumstances should you seek to empty your grey water containers anywhere in Kulin or by the side of the road on your way home. This is waaaay uncool and gives all Burners a bad name. Don’t be that person.


Grey water, if left to sit, will eventually turn to black water in a matter of 48 to 72 hours. Yes that’s right, grey water WILL turn to the same stuff that comes out your arse. No it’s not poop, it’s because in 2 to 3 days the bacteria will have multiplied to a point where they become as hazardous as sewage. Shit happens.

Oxidizing solutions can be used to reduce the bacteria and hence, smell. Think strong oxidisers such as bleach, pool chlorine or hydrogen peroxide. A cap full per 10 litres will be enough and if left open for a couple of days back at home will mean that you can safely use the grey water on your garden.

Further Info

Become a sanitation expert. A very few Burners are experts in water sanitation…brush-up on your Radical Self-Reliance here: