Australian Plastic Pipe - it's all about Sustainability

PIPA aims to ensure that the environmental impact of plastics pipeline systems throughout their life cycle meets or exceeds legislative and community standards.

The future of the plastic pipeline systems industry is inseparable from the national and global pursuit of Sustainable Development. The key concept is to meet the needs of this generation without compromising the needs of future generations.

Plastic pipe meets the needs for this generation- and indeed others- by being the material of choice for urban water utilities and major water savings projects in rural and regional Australia. Why do they make this choice? In addition to performance, one compelling reason is the product’s long and sustainable life, estimated by the Water Services Association of Australia (WSAA) to be in excess of 100 years. 

PIPA’s demonstrated commitment to continuous improvement of environmental outcomes is on the public record. As part of our commitment to the broader Australian community, we work constructively and transparently with government and stakeholder groups such as the Green Building Council of Australia to continue positive environmental change and improvement.

 

Some background material about Australian Plastic Pipe

Different types of plastic pipe

There is a wide variety of plastics pipes which for good reason are used for different applications. Readers should refer to our technical section for more specific information. 

PE and PVC are the materials used most often for plastics pipe. PE is part of the Polyolefin group of materials which includes other common pipe materials such as PEX (cross linked polyethylene), PB (Polybutylene) and PP (Polypropylene).

PVC

In the context of environmental impact the polyolefin materials have not required, nor been subjected to, the level of scrutiny applied to PVC. PVC is arguably one of the most scrutinised of all materials. The outcomes of that scrutiny have been positive for pipe products because of the rigorous scientific review of many of the areas that are singled out for attention. Others are simply not relevant to pipe or have been addressed by adopting best practice manufacturing, end of life management and responsible sourcing. We encourage anyone seeking more information on this area to read the document prepared by the GBCA Expert Reference Panel on PVC titled “Literature Review and Best Practice Guidelines for the Life Cycle of PVC Building Products 2010” freely available from the GBCA website.

Looking only at PVC pipe for a moment the following are some important facts to remember about PVC pipe in this country:

  • PVC pipe contains no plasticiser – so no phthalates. 
  • PVC pipe in Australia contains no heavy metal additives – so no lead and no cadmium. Our Australian Standards for PVC pipe specifically exclude such additives and are the only national PVC pipe product standards to do so worldwide.
  • The Australian Standards for PVC pipe (see Note 1) have the Best Environmental Practice requirements developed by the GBCA embedded in them to facilitate and openly encourage responsible sourcing of raw materials, best practice manufacturing, fully independent third party certification compliance, simpler procurement and easier identification of compliant products. No other Australian or international product standards have taken this step.
  • PVC pipe is completely recyclable – and in Australia recycling of pipe takes place now. 

Note 1: The inclusion of BEP requirements across all Australian PVC pipe Standards is in progress. It has been completed for AS/NZS 1260 and 1254. Standards Australia are in the process of formally including these requirements in all Australian PVC pipe Standards – this process will be completed shortly.

BEP PVC

Dioxins

There are no dioxins in PVC pipe – this is one of the misconceptions that have been dispelled by rigorous scientific review. Having said that and appreciating the understandable broader concern on this issue, irrespective of the source of dioxins present in the environment, readers are referred to two key completely independent reports on this subject namely – Dioxins in Australia: a summary of the findings of studies conducted from 2001 to 2004. This report was published by the Department of the Environment and Heritage in May 2004. The second reference was outcomes from the GBCA PVC Expert Reference Panel titled “Literature Review and Best Practice Guidelines for the Life Cycle of PVC Building Products 2010”.(freely available on the GBCA website). Please review the information in these reports.

 

Doing more with less material - and less energy

Material efficiency is a significant contributor to the overall sustainability of products and Australian PVC pipe genuinely represents world’s best practice in this area. In terms of pressure pipe, Australia is one of the major users and developers of oriented PVC pressure pipe (PVCO) which uses less than half the raw material to achieve the same pressure capability as comparable PVCU pressure pipe – PVCU still forms the basis of pressure pipe in the US. PVCO also has significantly improved fatigue and impact resistance over the standard PVCU material so can expect better overall performance.

In terms of non-pressure pipe in Australia we utilise multilayer pipe and structured wall pipe and conduits to achieve a 20-30% reduction in material usage without compromising pipe performance or the life expectancy of the pipe. 

In more general terms, we can now look at all the common plastics pipe systems - PVC, PE, PB and PP

Material Efficiency

Life Cycle Assessment

The more we study the life cycle of materials the more it becomes clear that in the case of pipelines it is the plastics  that are genuinely the most sustainable compared to alternative options like cast iron, steel, copper and concrete. Life cycle analysis (LCA) looks at every aspect from the raw material to the finished product and can include installation and operation along with end of life aspects such as recycling. 

LCA’s form the basis for comparing materials in this context and are used extensively in a variety of sustainability rating tools. The Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia rating tool and Green Build Council of Australia Green Star tool use LCA’s as key elements to their rating systems. LCA comparisons between plastics and alternative pipe materials repeatedly show that plastics pipe systems are consistently the best performers. Peer reviewed studies completed in Australia and Europe looking at the life cycle of drainage and pressure pipes found plastics were by far the best performers. 

Life Cycle Benefits

Recycling

The common plastics pipe systems are readily recycled and are being recycled now. Practically all post industrial waste is recycled and we are also recycling post- consumer pipe waste. For example, in excess of 3000t of PE pipe was recycled last year. Considering only post-consumer PVC pipe there was over 650t mostly sourced from demolition sites or construction waste recycled by the industry last year. This recycled PVC material is used in an innovative product range where the recyclate is used to manufacture new pipe with the same life and performance expectations as pipe made solely from virgin material. It must be remembered that plastics pipe represents a very small proportion of waste going to landfill – a fact confirmed by the NSW Government audit of construction and demolition waste. The reason for this is that plastics pipe in all its forms has a very long service life and is still in its first life cycle. It is good to know that even when that long service life has been achieved that it can be recycled again back into pipe with exactly the same performance and life expectancy as the original pipe.  So not only does plastic pipe connect Australia, it is also very much in the loop as far as recycling is concerned. 

If recycled post industrial waste material were added to the tonnages referred to above, the total figures would be more than doubled. Recycling of our product is a key PIPA commitment to the Australian community. Our objective is simple- to keep plastic pipe out of the waste stream. We do this for two reasons. One is clearly first and foremost because of our demonstrated commitment to the environment. The other is because plastic pipe, being so easily recycled, is simply too valuable to waste.

Pipes ready for recycling

Summary

  • Best environmental practices for PVC pipe are embedded in Australian product standards. 
  • Our industry is committed to responsible sourcing of materials. 
  • The Australian plastic pipe industry is using less raw- material and less energy in manufacture. 
  • Australian plastic pipe is being widely recycled and is very successfully used in Australian plastic pipe products. 
  • Life cycle assessments (LCAs) consistently confirm the positive performance of plastic pipe over other products. 
  • PIPA is committed to continuing improvement on all aspects of our industry’s environmental performance.
  • Two leading PIPA member companies have completed the world's first product specific Environmental Product Declarations (EPD) for plastic pipe.

Environmental Product Declarations

Suitable for Reycling