UBC Undergraduate Research

An investigation into alternatives to PVC drainage pipelines Ahmadi, Arash; Beattie, Nicholas; Sternig, Jacob; Tianyu, An


Since being introduced in the 1950’s, Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) has quickly become the most common piping material on the market. This lightweight material’s healthy combination of flexibility and durability along with it being incredibly affordable make it the go-to option when installing a piping system quickly and efficiently. However, in the last few years, the discovery of the significant health and environmental hazard risks that go along with manufacturing and using PVC have made it necessary to investigate a more sustainable alternative. These negative characteristics of PVC has gotten it put onto the materials “Red List,” a group of materials which the University of British Columbia (UBC) has decided to eliminate the use of on school grounds. In order to do this, UBC is investigating alternatives to PVC pipe that can be used in their waste drainage system. To find a suitable alternative to PVC, this study evaluates a wide variety of potential alternatives using the triple bottom line (TBL) method. The proven piping materials of clay, concrete, High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) and Acrylonite-Butadiene-Styrene (ABS) are evaluated, alongside the experimental piping material bamboo. PVC and recycled PVC are also evaluated and the resulting assessments are compared using decision matrices. Cradle to gate carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and embodied energy, and recyclability are used as the environmental criteria. The unit price and installation costs are used for the economic assessment and health hazards from manufacturing through to recycling/disposal are used as the social criteria. The resulting TBL assessments of plastics show HDPE, ABS, and recycled PVC are improvements to original PVC drain pipes in stormwater or wastewater applications. HDPE scores are significantly better in environmental and social criteria while having similar economic costs and similar installation methods. Clay, concrete and bamboo are found to have many environmental and some social benefits. Concrete and clay generally have greater installation and unit costs. The experimental material, bamboo, does not yet meet the BC building code, but future research into processing the material looks promising as a sustainable alternative. Clay and concrete may be viable alternatives in for medium to large pipes, but for 4 inch pipes, the focus of this study, their costs limit them to specialized applications, when cost isn’t a large issue. HDPE makes a great alternative to PVC for general applications; HDPE scores the best among the evaluated plastics in social and environmental criteria while its economic costs and mechanical properties are very close to those of PVC making the switch fairly cheap, and easy to implement. Disclaimer: “UBC SEEDS provides students with the opportunity to share the findings of their studies, as well as their opinions, conclusions and recommendations with the UBC community. The reader should bear in mind that this is a student project/report and is not an official document of UBC. Furthermore readers should bear in mind that these reports may not reflect the current status of activities at UBC. We urge you to contact the research persons mentioned in a report or the SEEDS Coordinator about the current status of the subject matter of a project/report.”

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