Closing the Loop: Pipelife Introduces Drip Line Collection and Recycling Service for Farmers in the Balkans

22. May 2024 | 6 min read

Drip irrigation allows reducing water and fertilizer use as well as power consumption while securing high yields even in water-stressed areas. Yet, handling used drip lines still remains a challenge for many European farmers.

After two successful trial seasons, Pipelife now offers a free drip pipe collection and recycling program to all its customers in Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania. To find out more, we invited our irrigation experts to share how the unique project was set up and the key benefits it brings to all parties involved.

Installing of drip lines at "Dumbrava Agro Nik" | Pipelife

From Waste to Opportunity

In 2023, Pipelife collected more than 90 tons of used drip lines from customers across Romania. The initiative was an expansion of several smaller-scale pilot projects carried out the year before — and the start of extending the recycling program to more Balkan countries in 2024. 

“Drip irrigation pipes are typically used seasonally, and in several countries, handling them, once the season is over, remains solely on farmers’ shoulders,” says Dusan Jankovic, Irrigation Systems Business Development Manager at Pipelife. “As farmers lack the equipment and finances to organize recollection and recycling of the used pipes on their own, drip lines tend to end up in the warehouses, local landfills or simply get burned.”

While thicker drip lines, suitable for multiseasonal use, exist, they are less common due to much higher costs and reduced flexibility for farmers. Increasingly unpredictable climate, crop price fluctuations and environmental requirements, such as crop rotation, mean that most farmers must alter their irrigation setup yearly.  

Three years ago, when Pipelife started offering its end-to-end irrigation services in Romania, the team reached out to customers and partners asking if they would be interested in participating in a recycling scheme. The idea was received with overwhelming enthusiasm, and Pipelife’s R&D and Irrigation teams put heads together to create a recollection and recycling service that would benefit all sides involved.


Drip Pipe Recycling: Challenges and Strategies

Drip irrigation pipes are made from HDPE – a fully recyclable material that shouldn’t become waste. Konstantinos Akritanakis, R&D International Project Manager at Pipelife, emphasizes that sourcing uncontaminated recycled raw materials still is a challenge for manufacturers: 

“Our drip pipes are made from a prime material, and taking it back allows us to reuse it to produce reliable products for other applications. The question was not whether we should do it, but how to do it in the most efficient way.” 

While recollecting drip lines might look straightforward on paper, organizing their efficient retrieval and transportation is far from easy. Used pipes are not only heavy due to water and soil remains but also take up a lot of space, which complicates their transportation.  

Finding a reliable local recycling partner was another challenge, as the second life of the recycled material would begin at Pipelife’s plant in Belgium — ~2,000 kilometers away from Romania.

“Recycled PE pellets can be up to 30% lighter than the pipes from the field,” explains Akritanakis. “Opting for local recycling was crucial to bring down transportation costs and emissions, but it is also a way to support the circular economy transition in our markets.”


Reborn for the Second Life

Once collected from the field, the pipes are taken to a nearby facility where they are washed, shredded and recycled into PE pellets. Additional care is taken to ensure the material remains contamination-free to meet the highest quality and usability standards.

Next, the pellets travel to Belgium, where they enter the manufacturing chain again. The quality assurance tests have shown that the recycled material is a perfect fit for producing cable protection pipes, explains Akritanakis.

“The current standards allow for using up to 100% recycled material in the manufacturing of cable protection pipes; however, achieving this percentage in practice can be challenging. The inner layer of these pipes must be perfectly smooth to facilitate insertion of the wires; thus, we were looking for a premium-quality recycled material, and this was a perfect fit.”  

The resulting product is made from 100% recycled PE and boasts a service life of at least 50 years — offering a reliable, low-carbon cable protection solution for the energy sector.


Even More Recycled Pipes: Future Plans

From 2024, Pipelife’s drip line recycling program covers customers not only in Romania but also in Bulgaria and Croatia. Even more, all participating farmers will receive a discount for their next season’s irrigation setup, and this prerogative is contractually guaranteed.

“If we collect 10 tons of pipes from a farmer, we will offer a discount for purchasing up to 10 tons next year,” sums up Jankovic. “This way, we can offer sustainable irrigation solutions at a better price to local farmers, ensure that drip lines don’t end up in the environment, and we can support the production of new circular products. Everyone wins in the end.”

As the farmers’ interest in the new service continues to grow, Pipelife is already looking into extending the recycling scheme to even more markets in 2025.

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