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Obstacles and Opportunities for Sustainable Construction: Recycled PE Piping Systems

26. July 2022 | 3 min read

The transition to a circular economy is among the goals of the European Green Deal, and increasing the use of recycled materials in production is a key strategy to achieve this. As a leading producer and a member of the European Plastic Pipes and Fittings Association (TEPPFA), Pipelife Group has raised the amount of recycled materials in production by over 200% since 2010. The corrugated pipes produced entirely with recycled PE by Pipelife Bulgaria have helped achieve this ambitious target.

Corrugated pipes from recycled PE at the installation site | Pipelife

New Solutions, Same Reliability

In 2017, Pipelife Bulgaria launched corrugated PE pipes made from recycled polyethylene (PE). The new product was a logical step, answering the increasing demand for products made from recycled plastics and considering the need for greener construction materials.

Working in close cooperation with R&D, several raw materials suppliers and material mixes were carefully tested to ensure the new piping system would have reliable performance and sufficient ring stiffness. While the sourcing process took more than a year, the development team was successful in creating a 100%-recycled corrugated pipe meeting and even exceeding the nominal stiffness class SN 4.

Over the following years, the demand for the new pipe system kept growing due to its environmental advantages, versatility in application and cost-efficiency. The pipes are suitable for most project applications with lighter loads, such as drainage of fields, private road junctions or green areas; management of household or industrial wastewater; and protection of telecommunication and power cables.

How Does Recycled PE Increase Environmental Sustainability?

The production of recycled PE pipes does not differ from other corrugated pipe systems that Pipelife Bulgaria offers in the market — the same state-of-the-art production technology and quality control ensure the pipes meet factory standard PL13476.

However, what makes a difference is the much lower ecological footprint of piping systems from recycled PE. Apart from giving a second life to plastics that would otherwise end up in landfills, there are additional benefits such as significantly lower greenhouse emissions. A study carried out by the Association of Plastic Recyclers also showed that products made from PE recyclates require three times less energy compared to products made from virgin raw material.

Close-up of corrugated pipes made from 100% recycled PE | Pipelife
Corrugated pipes from recycled PE | Pipelife

Obstacles to More Recycling in the Construction Industry

While a lower environmental footprint is a key driver for the growing demand for products made from recycled materials, customers also have the right to make high demands on product reliability and service life. Therefore, thorough testing and compliance with international standards are crucial.

Currently, piping systems containing recyclates are not covered by the international norm EN 13476-3, which specifies the standards and requirements for underground gravity drainage and sewerage systems. However, test results show that Pipelife Bulgaria’s recycled PE pipes meet the norm’s performance requirements. Thus, future changes in international product standards will be necessary to further expand the potential and demand for pipes made from recycled PE.

“Adaptations for European norms are expected since there will be more and more pressure on incorporating recycled materials in the plastics production,” comments Alex Hairabedian, General Manager of Pipelife Bulgaria, “The many advantages of recycled PE corrugated pipes offer significant new opportunities for our industry as well as for the environment.”

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