Changing Perceptions

The Plastics Pipe Institute
Written by Robert Hoshowsky

The Plastics Pipe Institute Inc. (PPI) has proudly represented all segments of the plastic pipe industry for almost seventy years. This trade association is based in Irving, a principal city in Dallas County, Texas and promotes the use of plastics as the material of choice in pipe and conduit applications, collaborates with industry organizations to set standards governing manufacturing and installation, and serves as a valuable resource of industry, engineering, and technical knowledge.
PPI President Tony Radoszewski joined the Institute in March of 2006 and is a certified association executive (CAE) with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry who leads a staff of ten, including licensed engineers.

Radoszewski has been in the plastics pipe industry going back to 1980 when he started in the resin and raw materials side with Phillips Chemical Company, a wholly owned subsidiary of Phillips Petroleum Co. He went on to work for its subsidiary, Phillips Driscopipe, which was the largest manufacturer of polyethylene pressure pipe. From there, he went to Advanced Drainage Systems, the largest corrugated pipe manufacturer in North America.

Radoszewski eventually started his own consulting firm, which he successfully ran for five years before being recruited by the PPI.

The Plastics Pipe Institute was established in 1950, representing both polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polyethylene – the two largest thermoplastics used in pipe systems. In the early 1970s, those members who were focused only on PVC decided to leave the PPI and form their own association.

As plastic raw materials developed over time, the institute evolved to keep pace. “The Plastics Pipe Institute advocates on behalf of all plastics, except PVC, in virtually every end use application,” says Radoszewski. “Today we support not only HDPE, but also polypropylene (PP), polyamides (PA), crosslinked polyethylene (PEX), Polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF), chlorinated polyvinyl chloride (CPVC) and composite pipe structures.”

The institute has five divisions: building and construction; drainage; energy piping systems; municipal and industrial; power and communications; and building and construction. Of these, only the building and construction segment focuses on work above ground. “The common person, when you talk infrastructure, thinks roads and bridges,” states Radoszewski. “We are trying to emphasize underground infrastructure, such as gas lines, water, sewer, power, and fiber optics.”

Each of the five divisions focuses on specific areas according to the role plastic pipe plays in the industry. Municipal and industrial, for example, deals predominantly with municipal water and sewer applications, while the energy division concentrates on gas distribution and oil and gas exploration. Drainage is for highway culvert pipe, agricultural, and subsurface drainage applications, while building and construction works on plumbing and radiant heating and cooling, or hydronics. And the last division, power and communications, focuses on underground power lines and fiber optics for Internet connections and smart highways.

There are three main groups within the organization. They are raw material suppliers, the big petrochemical companies such as LyondellBasell and Chevron Phillips which make plastics. The second group contains the converters that make pipe. These can be privately-owned smaller companies which often have multiple plants across North America. And the third membership group is made up of those that make equipment.

Membership in the PPI provides many opportunities for companies to take leadership roles, discuss important issues, implement changes, and participate in advocacy efforts “that focus on the use of plastics as the materials of choice for pipe applications.”

Many members state that one of the greatest benefits of membership is networking. Members meet others in the plastics pipe industry, work together on like-minded concerns and discuss issues and standards that are important to increasing the greater acceptance of plastic pipe.

“That is far and away the number one benefit of membership,” says Radoszewski. “Another benefit of membership in the PPI is, it gives a voice to all these companies as an aggregate. Different companies and markets can speak with a unified, consistent voice to promote the many uses and benefits of plastic pipe,” he says.

“These are products that need to be reckoned with, whether it’s at the educational level, communications, advocacy, or marketing. Advocacy being at the federal, state, or local level,” comments Radoszewski. “It’s one thing to go in as an individual company and try to promote your product. The reception by municipalities or engineering firms is far greater when it’s recognized as an industry, rather than one company trying to promote a specific product. When you go in as an industry, the resistance to hearing new or different information is lowered, because it’s not perceived as someone trying to push something on you,” states Radoszewski. “We represent so many different voices when it comes to plastic pipe.”

Plastic pipes range in diameter from just half an inch all the way to two and a half meters – over eight feet – and yield many advantages over other products. They are expected to have a hundred-year service life, with some data suggesting that two hundred to three hundred years is possible. They are not affected in the least by corrosion, do not rust, and, being underground, are removed from the presence of damaging ultraviolet rays, making them extremely long-lasting.

Despite the many advantages, plastic pipes still face challenges compared to legacy materials such as concrete, iron, or copper. As part of its mission, the PPI strives to educate others that better products exist as an alternative. Some sectors, such as gas, have embraced plastic pipe, with an estimated ninety-five percent of gas distribution using high-density or medium-density polyethylene pipe.

Other sectors, like water, are still reluctant to embrace plastic pipe, and polyethylene usage makes up less than ten percent of water mains, with PVC and ductile iron making up the other ninety percent. Although the benefits of polyethylene pipe are overwhelming, Radoszewski says some sectors are slow to respond.

“Why wouldn’t a municipality want to enjoy the same security of a leak-free water system for their gas utility brothers and sisters have with gas distribution?” he says. “You’d think they would, but they are reluctant to change.”

Interestingly enough, large businesses, such as hardware juggernaut Home Depot, are more willing to adopt the material than some utilities. When building a new store location, Home Depot is aware that installing a corrugated polyethylene pipe system for its retention and detention system will allow it to open that store earlier, because the infrastructure goes in much faster than reinforced concrete pipe.

“You don’t think that’s a big deal until you realize those stores can make a $1 million a day,” says Radoszewski. “Then you start saying, ‘that makes sense.’ The private industry does its homework and can immediately recognize the financial and economic benefits of it and are much more willing to make a change versus a municipality.” To persuade municipalities of the benefits of plastic pipes, the PPI believes in educating them to boost awareness and gain acceptance of the product’s benefits.

The PPI works with several other associations, like the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), the American Petroleum Institute (API), the American Gas Association (AGA), Underwriter Laboratories (UL), organizations focusing on plumbing, and others. The PPI creates awareness, discusses what approvals are needed in particular industries, and markets plastic products as a superior alternative to what is being used now.

“Because they are unaware of the benefits of the product, there is not a market pull for it. So we have to come in and make it almost as a technology push, which is always harder than a market pull,” comments Radoszewski. “This is best demonstrated by the gas industry. We had a product that we demonstrated wouldn’t rust and wouldn’t leak, and they said ‘Hallelujah! That’s exactly what we need,’ and so it was a huge market pull to have ninety-five percent of the market share.”

The PPI is already working with a number of universities such as the University of Texas at Arlington, Louisiana State University, Purdue University Fort Wayne, and Villanova University and would like to have a textbook on plastic pipe at every university engineering class.

After recently announcing its top members and awarding the projects of the year at its annual meeting in Idaho, the PPI looks forward to the future success of the industry. “The Plastics Pipe Institute, based on its longevity going back almost seventy years now, is a trusted voice in terms of technical knowledge and market knowledge so that a specifier or designer can look to the PPI as a trusted resource,” says Radoszewski. “The information that is available – especially on our website, which is a ton – has been thoroughly vetted by not one company, but by an entire industry to confirm the sustainability, the service life, the performance of the product will meet the requirements as designed.”



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