By Tad Radzinski
In 2017, America's aging piping infrastructure, corroded piping systems, and water quality concerns are at the forefront. Examples like Flint, MI, have engineers and policymakers working to design piping systems that excel in longevity, durability, and cost-effectiveness. The controversy and magnitude of this national problem has resulted in many false claims and complicated solutions from competing piping manufacturers, leaving engineers and municipalities unsure of what solution will work best for their infrastructure needs.
Throughout North America, many infrastructure standards and building codes are now integrating lifecycle thinking into guidelines and specifications, asking the question, what is the true impact of the products we use to build our nation? When analyzing water piping systems, we ask the same question: What are the environment and cost impacts over the entire lifecycle of the piping system? Lifecycle thinking is considering all stages of a product’s lifecycle — from raw materials to end-of-life disposal — in order to fully comprehend a product’s environmental impact. In our “take-make-waste” society, we do not often consider the impacts of the materials we use in day-to-day life, nor the costs associated with resource extraction, energy use over the life of the system, disposal, water pollution, or emissions. Understanding the lifecycle impacts of a product can help design teams to identify sustainability and cost goals; spot problems and solutions that may have gone unnoticed; and design the piping system that fits the specific needs of the community.