EscherichiaColi NIAID

E. Coli bacteria under magnification

Blackwater is a term dating to at least the 1970s[1] used to describe wastewater containing fecal matter and urine. It is also known as brown water, foul water, or sewage. It is distinct from greywater or sullage, the residues of washing processes.

In practiceEdit

Water coming from domestic equipment other than toilets (e.g. bathtubs, showers, sinks, washing machines) is called greywater and is preferably kept separate from blackwater (which comes from toilets) to reduce the amount of water that gets heavily polluted.

Separation of blackwater and greywater nowadays happens with all ecological buildings. Especially in autonomous buildings, the separation is always present. It is also commonly used on recreational vehicles where separate tanks collect blackwater and graywater wastes.


Blackwater contains pathogens which need to decompose before they can be released safely into the environment. It is difficult to process blackwater if it contains a large quantity of excess water, or if it must be processed quickly, because of the high concentrations of organic material. However, if blackwater does not contain excess water, or if receives primary treatment to de-water, then it is easily processed through composting. The heat produced by naturally occurring thermophilic microorganisms, will heat the compost to over 60 degrees C, and destroy potential pathogens. The compost is eventually reduced to safe fertilizer after about 1 year. [2]


Blackwater can be avoided by making use of composting toilets and vermicomposting toilets. In certain autonomous buildings, such as earthships, this is almost always present and allows the water requirements of the building (which, with earthships, are self-generated) to be heavily reduced. Besides saving water, composting toilets allow the user to reuse the nutrients found herein (eg for growing crops/trees).

See alsoEdit

References Edit

  1. US Patent 3915857, issued in October 1975
  2. Humanure Handbook: Contents
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