A recent study supports polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipe as having the environmental and economical attributes needed for long-lasting water and sewer systems. The report touts PVC pipe as less costly than other types of flexible piping for water, yet maintains performance and reliable service levels. The result: a product type that protects water quality and minimizes water main breaks, water loss, and infiltration and pavement repairs.
"The PVC pipe industry is the only pipe material that has transparently reported their sustainability and environmental impacts. This is welcome information for both policy makers and utility professionals to make fully informed decisions in their efforts to improve underground infrastructure with sustainable products," SSC President Tad Radzinski said in a press release.
The Life Cycle Assessment of PVC Water and Sewer Pipe and Comparative Sustainability Analysis of Pipe Materials was issued by Sustainable Solutions Corporation (SSC), an environmental consulting firm.
The Uni-Bell PVC Pipe Association, which represents North American manufacturers of PVC pipe, commissioned SSC to conduct an independent, peer-reviewed life-cycle analysis for commonly used PVC pipes for drinking water, sanitary sewer, and storm sewer piping covering the 4-to-60 inch rigid PVC pipe market. A panel of experts peer-reviewed the LCA for ISO 14040 series compliance. The review also references the 2015 Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) for PVC Pipe, which complies with ISO 14025 standards and was independently certified by global health organization NSF International.
Royersford, Pa.-based SSC claims the comparative sustainability analysis, which references over 200 sources and studies, is the first comprehensive environmental review of underground piping systems in North America.
The study reviews U.S.- and Canada-manufactured PVC pipe, which uses a tin-based stabilizer and does not contain phthalates, lead, or cadmium. This report also offers a comparative review of the corresponding alternative pipe products based on publicly available information on durability, smoothness factors, and statistical data, as well as environmental data when available.
At a time when aging piping infrastructure, underground corroded pipe materials, and water quality issues are at the forefront, SCC says its 128-page report addresses significant issues with the national water and wastewater infrastructure. According to Plastic News's Catherine Kavanaugh, the American Water Works Association has pegged system upgrades to infrastructure, pipe corrosion and water quality issues to run about $1 trillion.
Among its findings, the report says PVC pipe’s environmental and economic advantages stem from fewer environmental impacts from a life cycle and carbon footprint perspective when compared to alternative materials, including lower embodied energy, lower use-phase energy, and longer life attributes.
The report also synthesizes complex sustainability information about piping systems, including the finding that the energy required to pump water through PVC pipe over a 100-year design life remains constant because PVC pipe walls remain smooth over time. This generates overall life cycle cost savings and a lower carbon footprint as compared to alternative materials, which require more pumping energy over time due to corrosion, leaks and internal degradation.
BCC Research reports that plastics like PVC are increasingly being used due to their corrosion resistance, low weight, low cost and endurance. They have taken market share from other piping materials, and BCC Research believes they will continue to do, although at a slower rate than in past years.
The global market for plastic pipe/tubing reached nearly $56.8 billion in 2016 and should reach nearly $72.3 billion by 2021, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.1%.