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Engineered products designed to last

Plastic pipes have transformed the way people live, delivering essential services and utilities to homes and communities. A long service life is critical for infrastructure.

However, many people don’t realise how plastic pipe systems align with the three key principals of a circular economy:

Designing out waste and pollution: This is largely the result of the way things are designed and the disregard for the way Australia dispose of waste. By changing the nation’s mindset to view waste as a design flaw, harnessing materials and technologies PIPA believe it can ensure waste and pollution are not created in the first place. 

Keeping products and material in use: This ensures they can be designed to be reused, repaired, and remanufactured. 

Regenerate natural systems: This not only protects but actively improves the environment. 

PIPA’s Executive General Manager Cindy Bray says one of the important features of plastic pipes is its design life. 

“They are intended and designed to last a very long time. In typical environmental conditions, plastic pipe systems are well known to last for a very long time, in excess of 100 years,” Bray says.

“They withstand the forces they are subjected to; they do not corrode and resist chemical attack; they resist abrasion and maintain a smooth bore for easy fluid flow. They are also designed not to leach secondary materials into the fluid flow which is important for drinking water applications.” 

“These properties are ideal for a product such as pipes when long life expectancy is required.”

This has been proven by the many studies conducted here and around the world showing long term performance of plastic pipes in operation, showing no chemical degradation and the integrity of the pipe still intact. These studies can be found on the PIPA website. 

Durability is a result of product design

It’s the ability for that product to remain functional, without requiring excess maintenance or repair when used in its installed correctly, and under normal operation over its design lifetime. 

For plastic pipes it is intended that they can be installed and not require any maintenance or repair for decades.  

The plastic material used in the manufacturer of pipes are engineered to be robust, reliable, and recyclable. 

Plastic pipes are produced very efficiently in clean production plants with low emissions, lower embodied energy reusing any of the waste generated back into pipe production.

Suitable post-consumer and pre-consumer material can be used in the manufacturer of non-pressure pipes. This is governed by Australian Product Standards to specify what material can be used to manufacture pipes for different applications. Pipes manufactured with recycled content must conform to the relevant Australian Product Standards, just as pipes manufactured from virgin materials do. Plastic pipes must be fit for purpose, regardless of their composition.

Production plants for the manufacture of plastic pipes are relatively simple

The main inputs are the plastic pellets or powder and electricity. Production equipment is electrically powered, and heating is electric as the temperatures required to melt the plastic are relatively low. This results in a very clean and enclosed process. There is no combustion or chemical reaction require and therefore no smoke or emissions are produced. 

“Keeping products and material in use is critical for a circular economy,” Bray says. “Plastic pipes are the preferred material of choice to replace and upgrade pipes throughout the world. This is due to their performance, durability, service life, simplicity of installation, energy efficiency, recyclability, and cost effectiveness.”

In recent years the water industry has also embraced PE particularly when trenchless installation techniques like directional drilling, pipe cracking, slip and swage lining have led to increased usage in water and wastewater applications. 

These allow for fewer disruptions during installation or repair of existing pipelines, allowing flexibility and cost-effective installation of pipelines without the need to excavate trenches, lowing the impact to the environment and the community.

“Plastic pipes used in buried infrastructure applications like water will likely never be dug up even at the end of their long service life. Instead, they will likely become a host for a new plastic pipe through trenchless installation, saving huge amounts of energy, resources, significantly reducing the impact to the environment,” Bray says.

Using plastic pipe systems in trenchless applications also minimises the environmental footprint and is the best choice for digging under creeks, rivers, and other environmental sensitive areas. 

The long-term, leak free integrity of plastic pipes prevents water loss, protecting the health of sensitive water ways and minimising flood risk. 

Bray says you can see the environmental benefits of using plastic pipe systems with trenchless installation methods and how plastic pipes support a circular economy and waste minimisation in Australia, in a closed loop system.  

“By using resources responsibly through better design, we’re working smarter. We’re committed. And we’re working towards creating a healthier environment and sustainable future,” she says.

For more information visit PIPA’s website.

Read more on PIPA’s sustainability story here.


This article appeared in the August edition of Trenchless Australasia

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