Strength in Sustainability: Recycled Plastics Helping Create Critical Pipes for U.S. Infrastructure

We should all want to increase sustainability—in businesses and in our lives—but what does that look like? Sustainability is most often synonymous with products being renewable and eco-friendly, preventing adverse environmental impacts. The Plastics Pipe Institute (PPI) believes the future of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) pipe—a light weight, durable pipe used in public drainage applications that doesn’t leak or corrode—embodies these sustainability principles.

Standards for corrugated pipe made with virgin HDPE resin, or unprocessed materials, have been around for decades. But rising demand for sustainable materials led the Department of Transportation to evaluate whether pipe made with recycled HDPE resin matched the long-term performance of pipe made with virgin HDPE resin. The resulting report—and subsequent research by academics—found that the service life of HDPE pipe made with recycled materials could be predicted using a standardized test and that the recycled resin could be held to the same standard as virgin resins. As a result, by the end of 2017, two new standards—one through the American Society for Testing and Materials and another through the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials—were approved, allowing HDPE pipe made with recycled resins.

Prior to these standard revisions, corrugated HDPE pipe manufacturers in North America were diverting nearly a billion pounds of recycled plastic materials from landfills in production for pipe used outside of the public right-of-way and in agricultural applications. The new standards allowing the use of recycled HDPE drainage pipe within the public right-of-way will dramatically increase these quantities. This shift toward using recycled products presents an opportunity for design engineers and public utility agencies seeking to reduce their overall environmental footprint associated with storm drainage projects. An impending Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) conducted by Franklin Associates is set to conclude in 2019. The LCA will show that drainage pipe manufactured with recycled HDPE material has the lowest environmental impact of any pipe materials currently on the market for drainage applications. Corrugated HDPE pipe is demonstrating the strength in sustainability—and saving businesses money while promoting smart environmental stewardship.

Daniel Currence, P.E.

Director of Engineering, Corrugated Division at Plastics Pipe Institute

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