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Achieving a Circular Economy Requires Targeted Industry Action
February 23, 2021
5 min read
Up to 80% of the environmental impact of products is determined in the design phase, so it’s crucial for manufacturers to plan for a sustainable life cycle for all plastic products. Pipelife has set sustainable development goals at the corporate level, with some local teams going above and beyond the set targets. But we’re only one player in the enormous plastics industry – we need to come together to set clearly defined goals at the European level to have a greater impact.
“It’s our duty to provide piping solutions that actively contribute to a safer and healthier planet. We don’t get a second chance with the environment, so we hope that with our goals we can set an industry example and make our world a better place to live by reducing overall environmental risk,” maintains Pipelife International Head of Research and Development and Sustainability, Zoran Davidovski.
GOING CIRCULAR - BY THE NUMBERS
In 2019 Pipelife signed on to the Circular Plastics Alliance (CPA) pledge as a member of The European Plastic Pipe and Fittings Association (TEPPFA), which represents 60% of the plastic piping systems put on the market in Europe in building and infrastructure applications. The ambitious pledge aims to boost the EU market for recycled plastics to 10 million tons by 2025.
Together with other plastic pipe manufacturers, Pipelife has committed to increasing uptake of recycled content in plastic piping systems to 220,000 tons by 2025 to as part of the broader goal of reaching a circular economy. This amount of recycled content is calculated based on market predictions for 2019-2027 with average annual plastics production growth forecasted to be 1.6% (EU27+UK). Alongside this commitment, we have also unilaterally adopted more stringent internal sustainability and recycling goals for 2023.
EXCEEDING INTERNAL RECYLING TARGETS
Pipelife developed and internalized a sustainable development policy in 2015 that encompasses sustainable solutions, sustainable production and social sustainability. The CPA pledge focuses on use of recycled materials, but Pipelife’s production plan also takes into account energy and resource efficiency, worker safety and environmental protection.
Even with the ambitious goals set for the company, Pipelife has already twice exceeded sustainability targets much sooner than defined in the plan. The amount of recycled materials used in production has increased by over 200% since 2010. To keep this momentum going, Pipelife has set new internal goals to double the use of recycled materials per ton in production from 2025 to 2030.
The growing amount of secondary raw materials used – up from 67 kilograms per ton of products in 2017 to 85 kilograms in 2019 – confirms the success of Pipelife’s efforts. Of the 740,000 kilometers of pipes sold in that year, 62,000 kilometers consisted of recycled plastics. In pipes, this corresponds to a distance of 1.6 times around the world.
At Pipelife we aim to constantly improve on previously set sustainability targets. Currently, over 90% of our products are recyclable and/or reusable, but we’ve set an additional goal that all new products should be 100% recyclable or reusable from 2023.
“With the use of recycled materials, we can easily produce plastic pipes with a service life of 100 or more years. And even after that they can be recycled into new pipes,” says Davidovski. Pipelife Netherlands won bronze in "Sustainable Innovations" at the 2019 Inovyn Awards for their "Pipe with 3 Lives" concept, which can extend the lifespan of product material to 300 years and more.
PROMOTING EUROPE-WIDE IMPACT
The sustainable use of resources is one of the ways in which we support the goals of the European Green Deal. The European Union (EU) plan aims to reach zero net emissions by 2050 by “turning climate and environmental challenges into opportunities and making the transition just and inclusive for all.” The strategy also includes a more detailed and industry-targeted Circular Economy Action Plan. Both the pledge and Pipelife’s internal goals work toward supporting this plan in a direct way by reducing plastic waste and boosting recycling.
While it’s commendable when a company chooses corporate environmental responsibility, legislation do a lot to help raise overall industry standards. Boosting the market of recycled products at the European level has a great impact on waste reduction across various industries. The European Parliament has therefore proposed product-specific and/or sector-specific binding targets for recycled content within the framework of the action plan. This would affect several key industries, especially plastics.
PRODUCTION INNOVATION AT THE LOCAL LEVEL
The reduction in plastic waste that comes with the use of recycled plastics isn’t simply a corporate top-down approach at Pipelife. Many local teams set their own targets that even reach past the internationally defined ones.
Pipelife Netherlands – We’re taking great strides towards achieving a fully circular economy. Their Durofort sewage and stormwater pipe recently received the 2021 RIONED Innovation Award for its unique position in the market. The pipe already achieves the European sustainability targets set for 2050 at both ends of its lifetime – not only is it 100% recyclable, but it’s also made completely from recycled materials.
Pipelife Sweden – This team already increased their use of recycled materials in production by over 50% from 2018 to 2020. “The goal for this year is further increase use of recycled raw materials by around an additional 10%,” according to Safety, Health and Environment Coordinator Yvette Lennartsson.
Specific products that use recycled raw materials include double-walled rainwater pipes, coiled cable protection pipes and drainage pipes for both building and infrastructure applications. “We do this as an important step to reach our sustainability goals and also it gives us a good feeling as responsible producers who are taking actions for the future. If we can change industry practices, then we can have a much broader positive impact on the health of the environment,” emphasized Lennartsson.
Pipelife Bulgaria – 2020 was also a great year for ECOCorr, a corrugated PE (polyethylene) waste and stormwater pipe produced by our Bulgarian team. The pipe is made from 100% recycled PE. ECOCorr was developed in 2016 after testing various raw materials suppliers to find the best quality recycled PE. The stringent testing process closely evaluated an assortment of recycled materials to design a pipe that satisfies both the consumer and environment.