Australia, Industry News

Why plastics pipes are important to the future

PIPA pipes australia

Plastic pipes and fittings have transformed the way we live, delivering essential services and utilities to our homes and communities.  

Across a range of industries, from civil and domestic infrastructure to agriculture, mining and gas, plastic pipes and fittings play a critical role. They’re effective, efficient, and safe. 

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

As a non-profit association, PIPA works to promote the appropriate and contemporary use of plastic pipes and fittings throughout Australia through four key pillars – advocate, educate, technical and sustainability. One of the key focus areas for PIPA is to educate on the differences between plastic pipes and fittings to other plastics, such as single use.

“Not all plastics are the same and too often plastics pipe systems are mistakenly put in the same category as single use plastics,” says Cindy Bray, Executive General Manger.

“Pipes are long-life products, not single use, made from materials engineered to be robust, reliable, recyclable with a service life in excess of 100 years.”

With exceptional service life, most plastic pipes in use are still in their first life cycle. This makes comparisons between annual plastics consumption and the total annual plastics recovery misleading for plastic pipes and fittings. PIPA and its members are acutely aware of the problem society faces with plastic pollution and for more than two decades the industry has aimed to recycle the maximum amount of usable plastic pipe and other suitable materials into new plastic pipes. 

“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,” Bray said. “Recently PIPA published a discussion paper, Use of Recycled Materials in Plastic Pipes, and industry technical guidelines POP208 “Specification and Testing Guidelines for recycled materials suitable for non-pressure plastic pipe applications. These documents provide further education on plastic pipes material characteristics and performance criteria when using recycled materials.” 

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

Bray said there is already now capacity to increase the use of recycled material across a range of non-pressure pipe products when suitable waste stream volumes become available – we already have the solution. Special 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. 

Although there is low volume to recover due to the long life and integrity of plastic pipes systems PIPA and its members are taking practical, meaningful steps to minimise the impact of plastic pollution. Bray said PIPA is working together with broader industry to divert suitable plastic material from landfill into long-life, recycled pipe products that meet the relevant Australian and international standards.

She said the plastic pipe industry is proud of its environmental sustainability initiatives from best-practice material sourcing, manufacturing – with processes designed to reuse any scrap materials to make other pipes, end-of-life product stewardship and other programs such as:

PIPA’s Plastic Recycling Program
Due to the low volume of plastic pipes in the waste streams, the industry is always looking at ways to work collaboratively with waste management companies, major distributors of products and specific suppliers/clients to collect volumes of plastic pipes viable for designated recycling. PIPA has established a Plastic Pipes Recycling Program working with a variety of partners across Australia providing information and locations for end users to deliver their no longer needed pipes and fittings.  

Agreements with major plastic pipe users
Forming direct agreements with major plastic pipe users for the recovery of off-cuts and product at the end of its in-use phase.

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

Bray explains: “Programs such as the Construction Plastics Recycling Scheme in Queensland and the Plumbing Industry Plastic Recycling Scheme in Western Australia not only educates but also provides the industry with valuable insights, behaviours and greater understanding of the volume of available plastic pipe off-cuts and fittings from building, construction sites and education training facilities. This data will enable us to paint a true picture of material available, enable us to expand these types of programs more broadly and support better consumer investment and policy decisions.”

Bray said success of these programs can only be achieved through collaboration of all key stakeholders within the industry from associations, manufacturers, merchants through to end users. Everyone has a responsibility and a role to play in diverting plastic pipes and fittings from landfill to contribute to a responsible and sustainable future. 

“Through the whole lifecycle – 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,” she said. “Australia’s vast landscapes require large-scale, special-purpose systems to move water, wastewater, gas and to protect underground networks of power and communication cables. Plastic pipeline systems are robust and long-lasting, providing reliability now and into the future”. 

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