Comment: Plastic pipes could contribute to circular economy
The time is right to make use of recycled plastics for drains and sewers, and for the pipe industry to help minimise plastic waste in the environment
By Caroline Ayres, Director, BPF Pipes Group
Plastic pipes have transformed our utility networks, meaning that today waste water is transported safely and securely, and in much greater quantities than in times gone by. In today’s civil engineering and building environments, plastics are an essential part of our drainage and sewerage systems.
Drains and sewers made from plastic contribute significantly to sustainable development in the utility and civils sector, with low impact during both manufacturing and whole life, through minimal waste, recycling capabilities and built-in robustness, designed to last many decades.
How do plastic drains and sewers contribute to the circular economy? Firstly, by ensuring plastic pipes are fit for purpose through the availability of good quality standards and testing, the choice of product can be optimised for the application. Secondly, by reducing plastic waste at source. Plastic pipe manufacturers already do this, with highly efficient manufacturing operations that minimise waste and re-integrate off-cuts into the process. Finally, we have good product standards in place, and with modern engineered materials, these are being developed to encourage an even wider use of recycled plastics.
There is a great deal of plastic consumer waste that can now be made into plastic pipes: for example, for cable ducting, drainage and stormwater management applications. The renewed global focus on plastic waste and what to do with it creates some potentially viable opportunities to make plastic pipes and systems truly part of the circular economy.
Highways organisations are actively using recycled plastics for road stormwater drainage, working with manufacturers of plastic pipes in several forward-thinking projects. Certification has been achieved through British Board of Agrément (BBA) standards, to ensure these products are suitable for this most taxing of environments.
Operation Clean Sweep is an internationally run programme, led in the UK by the British Plastics Federation, designed to prevent resin pellet, flake and powder loss, and to help keep this material out of the marine environment. For the many companies that have already signed up to the programme, site audits are undertaken to identify transfer points and potential ‘spill’ areas, worksite set-ups are reviewed, training programmes implemented and prevention, containment and clean-up procedures put in place. Manufacturers signed up to Operation Clean Sweep produce almost 50 per cent of the total volume of plastic material processed in the UK.
A number of independent initiatives have been undertaken by other UK manufacturers to ensure that plastic is well-contained and controlled and does not randomly enter the environment. With the help of updated legislation, many more initiatives could take place to keep plastics under control and provide useful modern engineered, recycled, pipe products in the future.
Manufacturers are constantly striving to do more to recycle and reuse plastics. Even the world’s raw polymer manufacturers are beginning to acquire plastics recycling companies to enable them to be able to expand the use of such plastics.
Now is certainly the time to enable the use of more recycled plastics in pipes for drains and sewers to strengthen their contribution to a circular economy.
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