How green are plastic pipe systems and how do they compare with other pipe materials?

The study covers all major types of pipe applications

The study covers all major types of pipe applications

There is a mountain of information being circulated these days regarding the environmental footprints of different construction products. Teppfa realises that it can sometimes be quite daunting for designers to find their way around this minefield of data and ensure they are making the right decisions on behalf of their clients when it comes to choosing the best options to ensure required performance levels are achieved whilst reducing the overall environmental impact of the project.

When it comes to pipe systems, TEPPFA has been working away to make this process more transparent and straightforward.

The results of a three year project to produce “cradle to grave” life cycle analyses have recently been published by TEPPFA. The independent studies, conducted on behalf of TEPPFA by a leading LCA specialist, cover all major pipe product application areas including soil & waste, underground drainage, water supply & internal plumbing. They provide details of the environmental impact of typical installations and compare plastic systems with alternative materials.


Smaller footprint, bigger benefits

To make a fair comparison between different types of pipe material and determine the environmental impacts of different products, each stage of their lifecycle has been examined and analysed.

Comparisons have to be made, according to recognized ISO standards using the same functional unit for each pipe material in a particular application.

For such comparisons to be meaningful to designers we believe they should relate to typical installations not just “one metre of pipe” or “one kilogram of pipe material” as is often the case with some environmental data available. For the TEPPFA studies real installations were considered such as the mix of pipes, fittings and accessories required for a typical home.

Determining a product’s environmental footprint

A scientifically based full Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is the standardised method for fairly comparing the environmental impacts of different products or services. This type of assessment typically involves systematically collecting and evaluating quantitative data on the inputs and outputs of material, energy and waste flows associated with a product over its entire life cycle.

Therefore a whole range of processes need to be assessed to calculate overall impacts, beginning with the manufacturing of raw materials, to transforming them into products; continuing through the product’s transportation and installation, the product’s lifetime of use, and ultimately, the product’s disposal or re-processing at the end of life. 

The findings of LCA assessments are published in the form of Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs)in accordance with prEN 15942 to help communicate a product’s overall environmental impact.  

These Life Cycle Assessments were prepared for TEPPFA by the internationally respected Flemish Institute for Technological Research (VITO), following ISO standard 14025 methodology. To ensure complete objectivity VITO’s methodology, calculations and results were then independently validated by another respected sustainable development institute, Denkstatt GmbH in Austria, following ISO 14025 methodology.

The study involved collecting data on plastic pipe systems from companies covering more than 50% of the European market.   Data for comparable alternative material piping systems (concrete, ductile iron and copper) was based on publicly available information.

The analysis considered six different environmental impact criteria and quantified the levels of each for the four stages of the product’s  life cycle (Product Stage, Construction Stage, Use Stage and End of Life Stage).


example of a comparison between different pipe materials across the six
environmental impact criteria considered in the study. (Example shown is for
Polypropylene versus Ductile Iron for soil and waste applications) 

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Typical example of a comparison between different pipe materials across the six environmental impact criteria considered in the study. (Example shown is for Polypropylene versus Ductile Iron for soil and waste applications)

Comparisons between different pipe systems

The results confirm that overall the selection of plastic pipe systems can play a part in reducing the environmental impact of both new construction and refurbishment projects

For those involved in green procurement the full test results for plastic systems can be accessed by just following the link below. Reports on comparisons with other materials will be available soon.