What Goes Around, Comes Around

When we think of recycled products, products with short service lives usually come to mind. In the case of packaging materials, the actual service life may be very short indeed. On the other hand there are products from which very long service lives are demanded. In the case of some infrastructure materials, service life may be measured in decades, if not a century or more.

Pipes for underground water and sewer systems are such products. These pipes are expected do their job – to efficiently transport fluids, without leaking – for a long, long time. Still, all products do have a finite useful life under the best of conditions, and all products are subject to early replacement due to damage from external sources or changes in use requirements. Underground pipes, for example, may be accidently damaged by excavation equipment working in crowded utilities easements. Or, pipes installed in the past may simply be too small to meet future requirements.

Vinyl (PVC) pipes have demonstrated very high levels of reliability and long service life in underground water and sewer applications. There isn’t very much damaged or replaced pipe to recycle. Still, there is some, so a viable product standard for vinyl pipes with recycled material content was needed, in order to assure that the pipes with recycled material content perform to the same levels as those without recycled content. Such standards were development through the ASTM International in the mid – 1990’s. ASTM’s Standardization News carried a feature article on what became the ASTM F1760 Standard and its development (see www.astm.org).

One of the earliest demonstrations of sewer pipes made to the new ASTM F1760 Standard involved 8” sewer pipes, installed in beautiful Santa Barbara, California in 1995. I checked with City of Santa Barbara’s Sustainability Director, who referred me to the Water and Sewer Department. The Wastewater System Manager checked the City’s maintenance records and advised me that he could find no mention of problems or difficulties with these pipes in the sixteen – odd years they have been in service.

So, long service life vinyl pipes can be recycled, and the pipes made with recycled content can be expected to also serve for a long time. Sounds like a pretty good end of product life situation to me.

Those interested in more information on vinyl pipes with recycled content can connect with Charlotte Pipe (
www.charlottepipe.com) regarding their RePVC® Piping System or Ipex (www.ipexinc.com) for their Enviro-Tite® product range. Ipex is especially interesting, since most of their pipes, including the Enviro-Tite® range, see service in Canada’s harsh winter climate. I’m sure there are comparable products and product standards outside of North America.

The take-away for all manufacturers is that all products have finite useful product lives. All products need an end of useful product life strategy. And an end of useful product life recycling strategy may prove to be a significant competitive advantage.

Comments and experiences are, as always, appreciated.

…  Chuck

. Special thanks to Keith Steinbruck at Steinbridge LLC and Chris Toth at the City of Santa Barbara Water and Sewer Department for their input into this posting.