Sustainability of plastic pipes

Why replace pipes made from non-plastics materials like copper, iron and concrete with plastic pipes?

In addition to reliability and reducing the cost of investing in and maintaining pipe systems, there is now a reliable scientific basis for assessing the benefits offered by plastic pipes in terms of their lower environmental footprint.

Using two independent research institutes TEPPFA (the European Plastic Pipes and Fittings Association, a group of 15 European national associations and 11 direct company members across Europe) has voluntarily developed Environmental Product Declarations (EPD) for its main products in compliance with the International standards - ISO 14025, ISO 14040 and ISO 14044.  In this case the Life Cycle Assessments commissioned by TEPPFA were conducted by the internationally respected Flemish Institute for Technological Research (VITO), and then independently validated by another respected sustainable development institute, Denkstatt GmbH in Austria.

This scientific assessment of a comprehensive set of indicators concludes that the environmental impact of plastic pipe systems throughout the life-cycle, from cradle to grave is, in building services and pressure applications (soil & waste, hot & cold water, fresh water supply) and across all environmental criteria, significantly lower than the non-plastics alternative (cast iron, copper); and in sewage similar to the non-plastics alternative (concrete).  Choosing plastics pipes is therefore demonstrably the right choice for protecting and preserving the environment.

For more information on these results, please see TEPPFA website EPD-section

Please also check the general sustainability standards ISO 14040 and ISO 14044

 

If we want to preserve the world’s non-renewable fossil fuel reserves, shouldn’t we reduce our use of plastic products?

Plastics are currently made predominantly from fossil fuels like oil and gas, yet it is quite feasible to make plastics from other carbon sources or from renewable bio feed stocks like sugar cane.   

However whilst fossil fuel resources like oil remain available, they continue to be the most eco-efficient feedstock for plastics, which, contrary to popular belief, only account for around 4% of the world’s non-renewable fossil fuel consumption. 

Because of their eco-efficiency in reducing energy consumption when in use, studies have shown that using a small quantity of fossil fuels to manufacture plastics products actually reduces the overall consumption of non-renewable fossil fuels through the significantly increased energy efficiency achieved. In the case of plastic pipes, apart from the savings achieved through less leakage in plastic pipe systems compared to systems made from non-plastic materials, the relatively smoother internal surfaces  of plastic pipes actually reduces the amount of energy required to pump fluids achieving not insignificant further energy savings. 

Thus using plastics results in an overall net saving of the world’s non-renewable fossil fuel consumption.  Paradoxically reducing the consumption of oil for plastics would increase overall consumption of non-renewable fossil fuels rather than reduce it.

 

How can plastic pipes be good for sustainable development (environment, economy, society)?

In today’s complex society, with the need to meet the demands of a growing population, efficient pipe system infrastructure plays a vital role in terms of convenience, comfort and safety for society.  The exponential growth in the use of plastic pipes in new piping systems and for the replacement of non-plastics materials in older piping systems is a clear indication of their economic advantages.  But this economic superiority is now also complemented by reliable scientific evidence that, in general, plastic pipes also offer a lower environmental footprint than the alternatives.  TEPPFA (the European Plastic Pipes and Fittings Association, a group of 15 European national associations and 11 direct company members across Europe) has voluntarily developed Environmental Product Declarations (EPD) for its main products according to the International standards - ISO 14025, ISO 14040 and ISO 14044, using two independent research institutes. In this case the Life Cycle Assessments commissioned by TEPPFA were conducted by the internationally respected Flemish Institute for Technological Research (VITO), and then independently validated by another respected sustainable development institute, Denkstatt GmbH in Austria.

This scientific assessment using a comprehensive set of indicators concludes that the environmental impact of plastic pipe systems throughout the life-cycle, from cradle to grave is in fact, for most applications and along most environmental criteria, lower than non-plastics pipe materials, thus demonstrating that choosing plastics pipes is the right choice for protecting and preserving the environment.

For more information on these results, please see TEPPFA website EPD-section


Please also check the general sustainability standards ISO 14040 and ISO 14044

 

Why is it important to do full Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) for products?

Full Life Cycle Assessment, or LCA for short, is an internationally standardised method for comparing all of the sustainability aspects of different products or services fulfilling the same function. LCA involves systematically collecting and evaluating quantitative data on the inputs and outputs of material, energy and waste flows associated with a product over its entire life cycle: manufacturing the materials; transforming them into products; product transportation and installation; the product’s lifetime of use; recycling and the product’s disposal at the end of life.  LCAs offer the only meaningful way of comparing the relative impact of alternative products and materials.

 

How can ‘end-of-life’ be managed for plastic pipes so that society optimises its resource efficiency?

It is a widely held misconception that plastics are challenging to manage at their end of life. Plastic pipes are either highly recyclable into new products or a viable source of a calorifically rich fuel that can be used in place of oil for the generation of power or heat. The main limitation to increasing the volume of recycling of plastic pipes is their lack of availability due to their durability and extremely long life expectancy (100 years+ in certain applications). 

The plastic pipe industry is playing an increasingly valuable role in the overall sustainable development of society by manufacturing new pipes that contain a percentage of recycled materials thus absorbing recycled plastics from other plastic pipes and other applications as well.

TEPPFA members are committed to ambitious programmes to boost the collection and recycling of plastic pipe waste and investing in recycling technologies, in particular for PVC pipe systems which are fully recyclable.  (See www.VinylPlus.eu).

VinylPlus is a voluntary commitment for sustainable development from the European PVC industry, which incorporates an ambitious programme for stimulating the collection and recycling of PVC, including PVC pipe systems. The progression in the pipes sector over the last 10 years has been outstanding. In 2000, plastic pipe recycling was still in its infancy; by 2010 25,000 tonnes of plastic pipes were already being recycled and 50,000 tonnes of PVC recyclates were absorbed into pipes by the plastics pipe industry, which committed to further increase this value to 120,000 tonnes of PVC recyclates by 2020, with 50% of this recycled material being PVC from other end-of-life products (such as credit cards, windows, etc.). 

 

Are plastic pipes recyclable?

Yes, all plastic pipe waste from the building site are either recyclable into new products or a viable source of a calorifically rich fuel that can be used in place of oil for the generation of power or heat.  Most thermoplastic pipes (PVC-C, PVC-U, PEX,PB, PP-R, PE-RT) are recyclable at all stages of their life span.  Main outlets for recyclates are plastics pipes for underground drainage.

Plastics Waste recovery systems have been developed across Europe for recycling plastic pipe systems. In 2000, TEPPFA joined the PVC industry’s voluntary commitment to recycling, now known as VinylPlus. Building on the success and achievements of Vinyl 2010, TEPPFA recently renewed its commitment to VinylPlus, a new sustainable development programme which sets up more ambitious recycling targets to be met by 2020. TEPPFA company members are pushing for the continuous improvement of the recycling rate of PVC pipes.

When local units for collection and recycling are not available, plastic piping systems can also be incinerated with energy recovery.

Please check the relevant webpage on TEPPFA website. For more information on the commitment to recycling, please see the VinylPlus website.