Why poly pipes are more environmentally friendly than PVC pipes

28 July 2020

Poly Pipe

High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) pipes – also known as poly pipes or PE pipes – are quickly becoming known as the most environmentally friendly pipe on the market, and an excellent alternative to polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipes.

While HDPE pipe manufacturing commenced in Australia in the 1950′s, HDPE pipes weren’t initially developed as a more environmentally friendly alternative to PVC.

However, over time, this sustainable, low-cost, and leak-proof alternative to other piping, has provided HDPE pipes with a reputation for sustainability. 

In fact, polyethylene and polypropylene are now recognised by Greenpeace to be the only “future-friendly” piping material – and throughout the product life cycle, from its manufacturing to end-of-life, poly pipe has been shown to have a low carbon impact on the environment. 

In this blog, we explore why HDPE pipe is more environmentally friendly than PVC, how Advanced Piping Systems’ poly pipe was used in Australia’s first 6-Star Green Star Rated Office Building, and which industries are driving demand for this environmentally friendly pipe option. 

WHY POLY PIPE IS MORE ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY THAN PVC

LESS LEAKAGE

Thanks to the unique heat fusion joining process used during installation, HDPE pipes provide the lowest rate of leakages and the highest guarantee of preservation of drinking water quality, while reducing the possibility of leakage of waste water into the environment.

This is compared to other jointed piping materials, that can present excessive sources of leaks at connections.

LESS WASTE IN PRODUCTION 

According to the Plastics Pipe Institute, the environmental benefits of using HDPE pipe in water and wastewater systems begins with the manufacturing process. 

“Pipe produced from HDPE resin uses significantly less energy to manufacture when compared to other materials such as iron and concrete,” they write in their Position Paper on the Environmental Benefits of HDPE Pipe. 

In addition, the current worldwide production of polyethylene accounts for less than one per cent of the world’s total amount of natural gas and crude oil usage.

This is in stark comparison to the manufacturing process of PVC, which the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, a non-profit organization based in New York, calls “one of the most hazardous consumer products ever created.” 

The production of PVC requires a series of chemical reactions, with each step releasing waste byproducts, which can enter the atmosphere, groundwater and soil. 

“The manufacture of PVC uses a huge amount of nasty, environmentally-damaging chemicals,” explains Caleb Craig, Director of Advanced Piping Systems. 

“A significant amount of the waste by-product from the PVC manufacturing process often ends up back in landfill, often in third-world countries.”

FEWER CARBON EMISSIONS IN TRANSPORTATION 

As an incredibly lightweight pipe product, HDPE pipes require far less fuel during transportation to their final location, when compared to other pipe materials which are much heavier.

DURABLE & RECYCLABLE

Two of the most significant benefits of using poly pipe compared to PVC is its durability and recyclability. 

Advanced Piping Systems’ HDPE pipes have a useful service life of at least 100 years, with no need for excavation during service. 

When a HDPE pipe does reach the end of it’s lifespan, there are many opportunities for responsible recycling

“PE pipes can be recycled again and again,” explains Caleb.

“Every piece of PE pipe – if it’s in a reasonable condition – will normally go back to the pipe manufacturer for regrinding, before being put back into the mix to make more pipe.  

“Even very low-grade recycled HDPE pipe is usable, being turned into things like bumpers in car parks.”

For these reasons, poly pipe is increasingly being recognised by industry as a far more environmentally-friendly option compared to PVC pipe.  

POLY PIPES USED IN AUSTRALIA’S FIRST 6-STAR GREEN STAR RATED OFFICE BUILDING 

Completed in 2009, the SA Water building located in Victoria Square, Adelaide, was the first commercially-developed building in Australia to be awarded a 6-star Green Star – Office Design rating from the Green Building Council of Australia.

Comprising 10-storeys, this landmark office building provides 12,000m2 of office space and 5,000m2 of laboratory space for SA Water over eight floors. 

In order to win this prestigious title, Environmentally Sustainable Design (ESD) principles were applied to the design, construction and fit-out of the building, including the installation of Advanced Piping Systems’ poly pipe. 

“In order for the SA Water building to achieve its 6 Star Green Star rating, it was essential that HDPE pipes, not PVC pipes, were used in construction,” said Caleb. 

“Advanced Piping Systems’ HDPE pipes were used through the building, in the sewer, gas, drainage, potable water and for fire protection.”

INCREASING DEMAND FOR POLY PIPES

While HDPE pipes have been available in Australia for more than 50 years, according to Oil & Gas Australia, in recent times, they are very quickly replacing steel, concrete and ductile iron piping. 

On their website, they state: “it is the fastest-growing piping material in mining, municipal, industrial and commercial applications, with a conversion rate to HDPE expected to increase by 5 per cent per year.” 

Caleb believes the environmental benefits are a key reason for the increased demand for poly pipes.  

“There’s definitely been an increase in demand for HDPE pipes over the last 15 to 20 years,” he said. 

“The environmental benefits of HDPE pipe, when compared to PVC, and it’s comparable application, mean that HDPE is becoming a more mainstream choice.”