PIPA focus on long life of plastic pipes

plastic pipes

Plastic pipes and fittings have transformed our lives, delivering essential services and utilities to  homes and communities. PIPA is educating the community on the importance of long-life plastics.

It’s hard to comprehend the vast network of plastic pipelines installed and in operation in Australia and worldwide. Today’s plastic pipeline systems are still in their first life cycle.

The Plastics Industry Pipe Association of Australia (PIPA) was founded in 1999 and is the peak industry body representing manufacturers and suppliers of plastic pipe and fittings, plastic resin suppliers, fabricators, pipeline installations, and rubber seal ring manufacturers. It also represents training and certification bodies.

As a non-profit association, PIPA promotes the appropriate and contemporary use of plastic pipes and fittings throughout Australia. Its four key pillars are advocate, educate, technical and sustainability.

One focus is educating about the differences between plastic pipes and fittings to other plastics, such as single-use.

“Too often, plastics pipe systems are mistakenly put in the same category as single-use plastics,” says Cindy Bray, Executive General Manager. “Pipes are long-life products. They are made from materials engineered to be robust, reliable, and recyclable with a service life of more than 100 years.”

PIPA is doing a lot of work on educating the community at all levels about the importance of plastic pipes. Cindy is at the forefront of this campaign.

“We are an industry that converts large volumes of virgin materials into long-life products,” she says. “It’s important that we educate a wide range of audiences on plastic pipe systems’ role. This includes how they are different to other plastic products. We also explain why manufacturing virgin material is critical for people and the planet. To help further educate on the positive use of plastics, PIPA has recently launched a digital campaign titled That’s using plastic for good. 

The campaign, targeted to those outside the industry, seeks to differentiate plastic pipes from single-use plastic. It highlights their essential societal role.

Recycling and reuse

Most plastic pipes in use are still in their first life cycle. Cindy says this makes comparisons between annual plastics consumption and the total annual plastics recovery misleading for plastic pipes and fittings. 

PIPA and its members are aware of the problems society faces. Plastic pollution results primarily from its inappropriate disposal. It reflects the growing pressure to reduce reliance on short-lived, single-use products. A big drive is also to increase post-consumer and pre-consume plastic recycling levels. For more than two decades, the plastic pipe industry has aimed to recycle the maximum amount of usable plastic pipe and other suitable materials into new pipes. 

plastic pipes
Although suitable recycled material volume is low, the plastic pipes industry is committed to diverting material from landfills. (Image: PIPA)

“We are committed to maximising the use of post-consumer and pre-consumer recycled content in products while ensuring that products remain fit for purpose,” says Cindy. “PIPA recently published a discussion paper Recycled Materials in Plastic Pipes and Industry Technical Guidelines POP208. POP208 is called Specification and Testing Guidelines for Recycled Materials Suitable for non-pressure Plastic Pipe Applications. These documents provide further education on plastic pipe material characteristics and performance criteria when using recycled materials.” 

Plastic pipes must be fit for purpose, regardless of their composition. Pipes manufactured with recycled content must conform to the relevant Australian Product Standards, just like those manufactured from virgin materials. This is particularly important in infrastructure applications where reliable performance and long service life are primary considerations. 

There is already capacity to increase the use of recycled material across a range of non-pressure pipe products when suitable waste stream volumes become available. Unique technology known as multi-layer or sandwich construction for PVC pipes allows recycled material to be used in the core layer of the pipe between the inner and outer layers of virgin material. This means the core layer can be any colour, density, or formulation of rigid PVC material. The industry can also recycle polyethylene and polypropylene material into non-pressure drainage pipes. 

Improving sustainability

Due to the long life and integrity of plastic pipe systems, there is currently a low volume to recover. However, Cindy says PIPA members are taking practical steps to minimise the impact of plastic pollution, working with the broader industry to divert suitable plastic material from landfills into long-life, recycled pipe products that meet the relevant standards.

She says the plastic pipe industry is proud of its environmental sustainability initiatives. This includes processes designed to reuse any scrap materials to make other pipes, end-of-life product stewardship and other programs such as:

Plastic Recycling Program: The industry is always looking at ways to work with waste management companies, major distributors of products and suppliers/clients to collect volumes of plastic pipes viable for designated recycling. 

PIPA has established a Plastic Pipes Recycling Program, working with partners across Australia, to provide information and locations for end users to deliver their no longer-needed pipes and fittings. 

Education and Pilot Programs: PIPA has engaged with stakeholders within the plumbing sector to establish education and pilot programs to increase awareness of the sustainability of plastic pipes and develop the behaviours of appropriate disposal of off-cuts.

“There is a wide range of programs such as the Construction Plastics Recycling Scheme in Queensland and the Plumbing Industry Plastic Recycling Scheme in Western Australia,” Cindy says. “They educate and provide the industry with insights, behaviours, and a greater understanding of the volume of available plastic pipe off-cuts and fittings. This data will enable us to paint a true picture of the available material, expand these programs, and support better consumer investment and policy decisions.”

The success of these programs can only be achieved through the collaboration of all stakeholders, from industry associations, manufacturers, merchants, and end users. 

“Through the whole life cycle – manufacturing, use and disposal – the plastic pipe industry has and will retain its long-standing commitment to improving sustainable practices and outcomes in a way that benefits all Australians,” Cindy says. 

“Australia’s vast landscapes require large-scale, special-purpose systems to move water, wastewater, and gas and protect underground power and communication cable networks. Plastic pipeline systems provide reliability now and into the future.”  

For more information, visit: www.pipa.com.au 

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