Life Cycle Benefits of Australian Plastics Pipe

Pipes are a critical element of our buildings and civil infrastructure, which in turn are key ingredients for health, productivity and economic growth. Plastics have been used for pipe systems in Australia for around 50 years in both pressure and non-pressure applications. During this time the plastics pipeline industry has played an important role in improving the performance of pipe systems, minimising maintenance costs and reducing water leaks:

  • Testing by the Water Services Association of Australia (WSAA) has confirmed that Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) and Polyethylene (PE) plastic pipes are the best performing materials, with lowest failure rates in pressure water applications. In North America, a Utah State University study into main breaks found PVC to have the lowest overall failure rate, when compared to cast iron, ductile iron, concrete, steel and asbestos cement pipes, with corrosion being the major cause of water main breaks (Folkman, 2012).
  • Plastics pipe can be expected to last in excess of 100 years with excellent corrosion resistance even when installed underground. The UK Water Industry Research national mains failure database shows PE to have the lowest failure rate of all pipe systems (MacKellar, 2002). Not only do reduced failure rates translate to less leakage and water savings, but also reduced maintenance costs and environmental impact from excavation and pipe replacement.
  • PVC pipe has been found to have significantly less negative impact on urban-stream ecosystem health than concrete pipe drainage systems. (P. J. Davies , I. A. Wright , O. J. Jonasson & S. J. Findlay (2010): Impact of concrete and PVC pipes on urban water chemistry, Urban Water Journal, 7:4, 233-241)

These life cycle benefits have contributed to establishing plastics pipe as the material of choice for water supply and drainage pipelines across Australia, delivering more clean drinking water and sustainably moving more storm and wastewater than any other pipe material.

PVC is the most commonly used engineering plastic for pipe applications. Based on the CSIRO analysis of the performance data from WSAA, PVC is the best-performing pressure water pipe system in Australia. PVC is also the most commonly used material for sewer pipe systems. Environmental Product Declarations have been developed and published for a complete range of PVC pipe products.

High performance and reliability are important, not only for the total life cycle cost of a product, but also for  environmental performance, in terms of minimising resources and emissions associated with maintenance, repairs and replacements.

PE, another engineering plastic commonly used for pipe in utility applications, is used extensively in the water, waste water, irrigation, mining, cable conduit and gas sectors. While PE is often installed in traditional open-trench conditions, its welded joint system and ability to be produced in long coils, means that these pipe systems are well suited to trenchless installation methods like directional drilling and slip lining. Environmental Product Declarations have also been developed for the full range of PE pipe products.

Polypropylene (PP) pipe is used primarily for non-pressure applications, like sewer and stormwater drainage. Their lightweight, effective jointing and excellent corrosion resistance are the attractive features of PP systems. PP has excellent sustainability credentials. EPD’s have been completed for the range of non-pressure PP pipe products.