PIPA plastics pollution

Not all plastics are the same so the Plastics Industry Pipe Association of Australia (PIPA) and its members are taking practical steps to minimise the impact of plastic pollution.

Plastic pipes and fittings have transformed the way Australians live, delivering essential services and utilities to 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 and 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 about the differences between plastic pipes and fittings to other plastics, such as single-use.

Cindy Bray, PIPA Executive General Manager, says not all plastics are the same and too often plastics pipe systems are mistakenly put in the same category as single-use plastics. 

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

Most plastic pipes in use are still in their first life cycle. Cindy says 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,” Cindy says.

PIPA plastic pollution
Recycled polyethylene (PE) to be used in the production of non-pressure PE pipe.

PIPA recently published the 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. 

Cindy says these documents provide further education on plastic pipes material characteristics and performance criteria when using recycled materials.

Improving sustainability 

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 steps to minimise the impact of plastic pollution. They are working with broader industry to divert suitable plastic material from landfill into long-life, recycled pipe products that meet the relevant Australian and International Standards.

Cindy says there is capacity to increase the use of recycled material across a range of non-pressure products when suitable waste stream volumes become available. She says 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.

PIPA’s plastic programs 

Due to the low volume of plastic pipes in the waste streams, the plastic industry is always looking at ways to work collaboratively with waste management companies, major distributors of products and specific suppliers or clients to collect volumes of plastic pipes viable for designated recycling. 

PIPA has established a Plastic Pipes Recycling Program and is working with a variety of partners across Australia to provide information and locations for end users to deliver their no longer needed pipes and fittings.  

PIPA members also form direct agreements with major plastic pipe users for the recovery of off-cuts and product at the end of its in-use phase.

With other industry stakeholders within the plumbing sector, PIPA has established education and pilot programs to increase awareness about the sustainability of plastic pipes and develop behaviours of appropriate disposal of offcuts.

“Programs such as the Construction Plastics Recycling Scheme in Queensland and the Plumbing Industry Plastic Recycling Scheme in Western Australia not only educate, but also provide the industry with valuable insights into behaviours and greater understanding of the volume of available plastic pipe offcuts and fittings from building, construction sites and education training facilities,” Cindy says.

“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.”

She says that success of these programs can only be achieved through collaboration of all stakeholders from associations, manufacturers and 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,” Cindy says.

“Through the whole life cycle – 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.

“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.”  

For more information, visit: www.pipa.com.au or www.pipa.com.au/recycling/ 

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