Green building design and resulting pollution

By Arius Wantenaar

The swing to green building and sustainability is rapidly gaining ground, with every supplier claiming that their products are the ultimate in maintaining a ‘green’ environment.

Let us look at this concept for a moment and evaluate where we are going, especially when we are constantly badgered by environmentalists with regard to the mountain of plastics clogging our seas, waterways, and refuse dumps.

Arius Large mainMany of the plastics used in packaging and industry end up in the veldt, storm drains, and refuse dumps. The stuff in the veldt is often eaten by cattle, game, and goats, especially during times of drought, with serious health and digestive problems.

I’m sure everyone has also been to a dam or river to enjoy the scenery and environment for a picnic or a day’s outing and you find all sorts of plastic bottles, bags, and so on to spoil that outing.


Arius Wantenaar is the director of Stainless Piping Utilities and has been involved in various industries with fluid reticulation systems for over 30 years. He has assisted in the establishment of SANS standards for stainless-steel pipes and crimp fittings, and also collaborated with various role players, major consulting engineers, and local governments over the years.


The same thing applies to the sea. It is massively overloaded with all types of plastic waste that doesn’t just break down and is very detrimental to marine life. Further to this, through the food chain, humans land up consuming it, although in micro form when we eat fish or seafood. It is also in our water system and as we have seen from studies in America, even in our bottled water.

Although a very controversial subject, especially in the plumbing industry, some questions do need to be asked and awareness created around it with this growing and persisting problem.

Evaluating the plumbing industry

Pure plastic piping, multilayer piping and all their derivatives, used in their appropriate settings, are very good. But what happens to the offcuts on site, or when a building is demolished and recycled?

During recycling of building waste, plastics and plastic piping are difficult to separate from the masonry. Also, because the multilayer plastic is so difficult to separate from its metal component and generally relatively cheap, it does not get recycled but goes to our refuse dumps. It becomes ‘junk’ because it is too difficult to put through a cleaning process and the scrap value does not make it worth it. Similarly, so does the pure plastic piping. Is this now a ‘green and sustainable’ product?

Mild steel piping, copper, and stainless steel all have a scrap recoverable value and can be 100% recycled, whether in offcut form or separating these from a demolished building. You definitely don’t have to leave copper lying around. It will be picked up and recycled as quick as a wink.

Everything comes at a price. Plastic is generally a cheaper option on initial installation, but expensive down the line to recover or reuse through recycling in the bigger picture.

Stainless steel specifically is produced from at least 60% of recycled steel and stainless steel, the balance being virgin material. The installation cost of copper or stainless steel might cost a bit more initially, but taken in the overall concept of the products, it is a more cost-effective lifetime solution. So, which is the greener product?

Galvanised and mild steel are not that acceptable any longer in the industry because of the corrosion aspect or shorter life cycle, and high installation costs, but are still highly recyclable products.

This leaves us with clear leaders when we consider this. Copper has a very long lifespan and also has unique anti-microbial properties that can kill most pathogens; however, due to its high scrap-metal value, it is also a common item targeted for theft. It can be soldered or used with press/crimp fittings.

Stainless steel has aesthetic appeal, long maintenance free life, ease of installation, resistance to many chemicals, and is very recyclable. Overall, a very cost-effective solution in the long run. Its application is also far beyond the plumbing industry and can be applied in residential, commercial, and industrial applications.

Building design choices

From the building design stage, architects and specifiers should also consider green products in their application and lifespan, its health benefits, and recycling possibility — and not only based on efficiency in application and costs. Everyone wants to save money but if we are to truly look at a green future, these are the types of choices we need to take a closer look at.

About the author

Arius Wantenaar is the director of Stainless Piping Utilities and has been involved in various industries with fluid reticulation systems for over 30 years. He has assisted in the establishment of SANS standards for stainless-steel pipes and crimp fittings, and also collaborated with various role players, major consulting engineers, and local governments over the years.


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