Australian plastics pipe – It’s all about sustainability

PIPA aims to ensure that the environmental impact of plastics pipeline systems throughout their life cycle meets or exceeds legislative and community standards.

The future of the plastic pipeline systems industry is inseparable from the national and global pursuit of Sustainable Development. The key concept is to meet the needs of this generation without compromising the needs of future generations.

Plastic pipe meets the needs for this generation- and indeed others- by being the material of choice for urban water utilities and major water savings projects in rural and regional Australia. Why do they make this choice? In addition to performance, one compelling reason is the product’s long and sustainable life, estimated by the Water Services Association of Australia (WSAA) to be in excess of 100 years.

PIPA’s demonstrated commitment to continuous improvement of environmental outcomes is on the public record. As part of our commitment to the broader Australian community, we work constructively and transparently with government and stakeholder groups such as the Green Building Council of Australia to continue positive environmental change and improvement.

Some background material about Australian plastics pipe

Different types of plastics pipe

There are a wide variety of plastics pipes which for good reason are used for different applications. Readers should refer to our technical section for more specific information.

PE and PVC are the materials used most commonly for plastics pipe. PE is part of the polyolefin group of materials which includes other common pipe materials such as PEX (crosslinked polyethylene) and PP (polypropylene).


In the context of environmental impact the polyolefin materials have not required, nor been subjected to, the level of scrutiny applied to PVC. PVC is arguably one of the most scrutinised of all materials. The outcomes of that scrutiny have been positive for pipe products because of the rigorous scientific review of many of the areas that are singled out for attention. Others are simply not relevant to pipe or have been addressed by adopting best practice manufacturing, end of life management and responsible sourcing. We encourage anyone seeking more information on this area to read the document prepared by the GBCA Expert Reference Panel on PVC titled “Literature Review and Best Practice Guidelines for the Life Cycle of PVC Building Products 2010” freely available from the GBCA website.

Looking only at PVC pipe for a moment the following are some important facts to remember about PVC pipe in this country:

  • PVC pipe contains no plasticiser and therefore, no phthalates.
  • PVC pipe in Australia contains no heavy metal additives; so no lead or cadmium. Our Australian Standards for PVC pipe specifically exclude such additives and are the only national PVC pipe product standards to do so worldwide.
  • The Australian Standards for PVC pipe have the Best Environmental Practice (BEP) requirements developed by the GBCA embedded in them to facilitate and openly encourage responsible sourcing of raw materials, best practice manufacturing, fully independent third party conformity certification, simpler procurement and easier identification of conforming products. No other Australian or international product standards have taken this step.
  • PVC pipe is completely recyclable and in Australia, recycling of pipe is taking place now.

Note: The inclusion of BEP requirements across all Australian PVC pipe Standards is in progress. It has been completed for AS/NZS 61386.21, AS/NZS 1260 and AS/NZS 1254. Standards Australia are in the process of formally including these requirements in all Australian PVC pipe and conduit Standards.


There are no dioxins in PVC pipe. The suggestion that there is, is one of the misconceptions that have been dispelled by rigorous scientific review. Having said that and appreciating the understandable broader concern on this issue, irrespective of the source of dioxins present in the environment, readers are referred to two key completely independent reports on this subject namely; “Dioxins in Australia: a summary of the findings of studies conducted from 2001 to 2004”. This report was published by the Department of the Environment and Heritage in May 2004. The second reference was outcomes from the GBCA PVC Expert Reference Panel titled “Literature Review and Best Practice Guidelines for the Life Cycle of PVC Building Products 2010”. Please review the information in these reports.

Doing more with less material and less energy

Material efficiency is a significant contributor to the overall sustainability of products and Australian PVC pipe genuinely represents world’s best practice in this area. In terms of pressure pipe, Australia is one of the major users and developers of oriented PVC pressure pipe (PVC-O) which uses less than half the raw material to achieve the same pressure capability as comparable PVC-U pressure pipe. PVC-U still forms the basis of pressure pipe in the USA. PVC-O also has significantly improved fatigue and impact resistance over the standard PVC-U material so can expect better overall performance.

In terms of non-pressure pipe in Australia, we utilise multilayer and structured wall pipe and conduits to achieve a 20-30% reduction in material usage, without compromising pipe performance or the life expectancy of the pipe.

Life Cycle Assessment

The more we study the life cycle of materials the more it becomes clear that in the case of pipelines it is the plastics that are genuinely the most sustainable compared to alternative options like cast iron, steel, copper and concrete. Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) looks at every aspect from the raw material to the finished product and can include installation and operation along with end of life aspects such as recycling.

LCA’s form the basis for comparing materials in this context and are used extensively in a variety of sustainability rating tools. The Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia rating tool and Green Build Council of Australia Green Star tool use LCA’s as key elements to their rating systems. LCA comparisons between plastics and alternative pipe materials repeatedly show that plastics pipe systems are consistently the best performers. Peer reviewed studies completed in Australia and Europe looking at the life cycle of drainage and pressure pipes found plastics were by far the best performers.

Sustainable Procurement

The Supply Chain Sustainability School has released a short e-learning module that explains what ‘Sustainable Procurement’ means, how the concept and ISO 20400 are relevant to Australian businesses.

With the support of PIPA, they’ve added a case study to work through, which will assist you to make Sustainable Procurement decisions that maximise positive impacts now and into the future.

The e-learning module takes around 20 minutes and is free after registration.


  • Best environmental practices for PVC pipe are embedded in Australian product standards.
  • Our industry is committed to responsible sourcing of materials.
  • The Australian plastic pipe industry is using less raw material and less energy in manufacture.
  • Australian plastic pipe is being widely recycled and is very successfully used in plastic pipe products.
  • LCA’s consistently confirm the positive performance of plastic pipe over alternate products.
  • PIPA is committed to continuing improvement in all aspects of our industry’s environmental performance.
  • PIPA member companies have completed the world’s first product specific Environmental Product Declarations (EPD’s) for plastic pipe.
  • The Supply Chain Sustainability School offers a free e-learning module using Australian manufactured plastic pipe as a case study for sustainable procurement.