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Green building and sustainability
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 that use metals like cast iron, steel and copper, and other
materials, such as 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 forms the basis for comparing materials, and is used
extensively in a variety of sustainability rating tools. The
Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia (ISCA) IS Rating
Tool and the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) Green
Star tool both use LCA as a key elements in their rating systems.
LCA comparisons between plastics and alternative pipe materials
repeatedly show that plastic 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 that plastics were by far the best performers1, 2
While many people would not find it surprising that PE and PP
outperform the alternative pipe materials in terms of sustainability, there
may be some who would be surprised to learn that PVC does exactly
the same. There remain many misconceptions associated with PVC
pipe, and we need to dispel a couple of the most common ones.
PVC pipe contains no plasticisers (including phthalates). PVC pipe
in Australia contains no heavy metal stabilisers – so, no lead. Both
of these aspects are mandated in Australian product standards
for PVC pipe – the only national product standards for PVC pipe
worldwide to do so.
The Australian plastic pipe industry is committed to responsible
sourcing, manufacturing and recycling of PVC. Our industry has
embedded the Best Environmental Practice (BEP) requirements
developed by the GBCA in the Australian product standards to make
compliance, procurement and identification simpler and more effective.
1 ‘Adaptation of the USGBC TSAC Report for Relevance to Australian DWV
Pipe’ Nigel Howard, Branz 2008
2 A suite of Environmental Product Declarations commissioned by TEPPFA
and undertaken by independent group the Flemish Institute for Technological
Research (VITO) to measure the environmental footprint of various plastic
pipe systems based on life-cycle assessment. The work was validated by
the Denkstatt sustainability consultancy in Austria. Those most relevant to
infrastructure pipe options in Australia are:
• Polyethylene pipe systems for water distribution (PE)
• Bi-oriented polyvinylchloride MRS 45 MPa pipe system for water distribution
(PVC-O MRS 45 MPa)
• PVC solid-wall sewer pipe systems for drainage and sewage (PVC solid wall)
• Polyvinylchloride multilayer sewer pipe system with a foamed core (PVC
• Polyvinylchloride (PVC-U) multilayer sewer pipe system with a core of foam
and recyclates (PVC Multilayer Foam + Recyclates)
• Polypropylene structured (twin) wall sewer pipe system (PP sewer twin wall).
All of the raw material requirements and waste management
improvements as part of the BEP requirements are certified by
independent third-party certification bodies.
When it comes to innovation and material efficiency, Australia is
one of the major developers and users of oriented PVC pressure
pipe (PVCO), which uses less than half the raw material to achieve
the same pressure capability as comparable unplasticised PVC
(PVCU) pressure pipe – PVCU still forms the basis of pressure
pipe in the United States. PVCO also has significantly improved
fatigue and impact resistance over the standard PVCU material,
so you can expect better overall performance. In terms of non-
pressure pipe in Australia, we use material-efficient multi-layer
and structured wall pipe to achieve a 20–30 per cent reduction
in material usage while maintaining the same operational
performance and life expectancy as traditional PVC pipes. In short,
we now do much more with less.
On the subject of recycling, all the common plastic pipe systems
(PVC, PE and PP) 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, more than 650
tonnes of post-consumer PVC pipe, mostly sourced from demolition
sites or construction waste, was recycled by the industry last year.
Because of the nature of the material and the innovative product
range, the recyclate is used to manufacture new pipe with the
same life and performance expectations as pipe made from virgin
material. Iplex Pipelines has recently opened a recycling centre
in Sydney’s west, where contractors can return plastic pipe for
recycling. Other manufacturers like Pipemakers and Vinidex offer
take-back schemes. Facilities and schemes such as these facilitate
the easy return of waste pipe and intercept the waste before it
becomes mixed and contaminated, making the recycling of post-
consumer pipe waste more viable. Recycling is part of the Australian
plastic pipe industry commitment to sustainable practices.
The Plastics Industry Pipe Association of Australia (PIPA) has
worked with key sustainability groups, such as the GBCA, for almost
a decade. Romilly Madew (Chief Executive of the GBCA) recently
used work done with PIPA as an example of a collaborative success
story in the green building sector. In the August 2013 edition of
the GBCA Newsletter, Ms Madew observed that: ‘The trust and
transparency developed during the process of collaborating with
PIPA gave us the confidence to make some significant changes, as
well as the opportunity to examine our industry in a way not thought
possible’. This comment was in the context of the development of
‘Best Environmental Practice PVC’, and highlights how effective our
collaboration has been, and continues to be, with the GBCA.
PIPA also co-sponsored development of the ISCA IS Rating Tool.
PIPA is a member of ISCA and its Materials Working Group.
Far from resting on its laurels, the Australian plastic pipe industry
is currently proactively taking key steps in further strengthening its
environmental credentials, with a focus on increased transparency
and third-party certification.
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