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Grey to Green: One Student’s Mission to Promote Water Sustainability

Shreya Ramadran headshot

Human Biology junior Shreya Ramachandran’s journey into exploring water issues and promoting conservation began in middle school. While visiting Central California in 2015, during the height of one of the state’s most severe droughts, she witnessed communities grappling with extreme water shortages, with residents trucking in water for basic needs such as drinking and bathing. Ramachandran recalled witnessing a similar water scarcity crisis while visiting her grandparents in India, where access to clean water was a daily struggle and people often relied on water tankers. These experiences ignited a desire to take action and find solutions for water reuse and conservation. “Two thirds of the world’s population lives without access to clean drinking water for at least one month out of the year,” Ramachandran explained (Mekonnen & Hoekstra, 2016). “And with climate change, this is only a problem that’s going to get worse. I knew I wanted to do something to tackle this issue.”

She decided to tackle it first in her own backyard. According to WaterSense, a US Environmental Protection Agency Partnership Program, one of the things that makes drinkable water particularly scarce in the Western United States is that between 30% and 50% of water is used for outdoor purposes. She opted to explore the possibility of reusing greywater, wastewater from sinks, showers, baths, and laundries, for irrigation. Her search for an alternative laundry detergent that would produce greywater suitable for irrigation led her to soap nuts, dried fruits that have been used for centuries by people in countries such as India, Nepal, and Mexico for their soap-releasing properties. Throughout middle school and high school, Ramachandran conducted extensive research on soapnut greywater, assessing its impact on soil nutrients and microbiomes, plants, and aquatic life. She found no statistically significant differences between soapnut greywater and regular water meaning it would be safe to use for irrigation. Integrating greywater systems would be an accessible and cost-effective solution to water issues at both the individual household level and the government and policy level. From this, Ramachandran realized that there needed to be greater public awareness and understanding of greywater and water recycling methods.

In conjunction with her research efforts, Ramachandran also founded the Grey Water Project, a nonprofit organization that promotes greywater reuse and water conservation. At its core, the Grey Water Project raises awareness and educates people of all ages on global water scarcity and greywater as a form of water recycling and conservation.

Since its founding, the organization has expanded to three primary efforts: a grassroots campaign for raising community engagement and awareness, curriculum development, and policy. By hosting workshops on greywater, providing a hands-on STEM curriculum for educators, and talking to politicians about incentivizing greywater use, Ramachandran is shifting the narrative to make water conservation and greywater reuse a higher priority at the individual, community, national, and global levels. “I have been able to impact over 100,000 people around the world since I first started,” she reflected. “But it’s a joy to be able to see the tangible results from the work that I’m doing, even if it’s very small like a person coming up to me after a workshop or reaching out after a presentation and saying ‘hey I actually implemented a greywater reuse system in my home.’” She measures her impact and reach in multiple ways, including website traffic, social media engagement, program participation, and media features, which contribute to spreading awareness and inspiring action.

While Ramachandran has noticed increased awareness around water and water sustainability in recent years, especially in California, she argues that knowledge about solutions at all levels is still lacking. Some resistance to change comes from a lack of awareness, some comes from misconceptions. For instance, many people believe that toilet-to-tap water recycling is unsanitary even though research has shown that it is both safe and effective. She also believes that the importance of water issues is downplayed in discussions about the environment, which tend to focus on energy, even though water and energy are firmly intertwined. Her nonprofit sees the resistance at the individual and small government levels as an opportunity to advance their mission of raising awareness, addressing misconceptions, and advocating for wider adoption of water sustainability practices like greywater reuse.

Ramachandran’s passion and dedication to water issues and environmental work has only grown with her studies and involvement at Stanford. She is active with Stanford Climate Ventures, leads Students for Sustainable Stanford’s Climate Action Group, and advocates for greater water recycling and conservation on campus. With her Human Biology concentration in climate and health, she combines her efforts in water sustainability, environmental policy, and entrepreneurship with her interest in examining the environment’s impact on human health. “I’m learning tools and practices that will allow me to become a more effective leader and well-rounded individual,” she shared. Her efforts with the Grey Water Project also allow her to bridge the theoretical knowledge of the classroom to real-world, practical experiences.

Shreya Ramadran headshot

Ramachandran’s journey with the Grey Water Project and water advocacy exemplifies the power of individual action in addressing water scarcity issues. Emphasizing the continued importance of awareness and education, she encourages everyone to learn about these issues, to take small steps in their daily lives to recycle and reuse water where possible, and to be an advocate for water sustainability. By being cognisant of one’s water use, individuals can play a significant role in combating one of humanity’s most pressing crises. As Ramachandran noted, “Conserving water starts with us.” 

You can learn more about the Grey Water Project by visiting their website. To partner or volunteer with the Grey Water Project, fill out the Contact Us form. For those interested in learning more about water systems and water issues in California, Ramachandran invites you to watch ABC30’s documentary, Feast or Famine: California's Water Crisis. To learn more about Stanford’s conservation and water supply efforts, check out