We asked Howard Oakes, Global Head of Health, Safety and Environment, and Sven Alaerts, Global Head of Environmental Sustainability, how Aliaxis supports environmental protection.
What does World Environment Day mean to you?
Sven Alaerts, Global Head of Environmental Sustainability at Aliaxis: It is important to have at least one day a year to remind us about our natural environment. Often, we take these things for granted, so it makes sense to have a specific day to bring them to attention. It is also an opportunity to look back over the year, to evaluate what we have achieved and the challenges we still face.
The question of biodiversity is something that many companies are only now taking action to protect, even though most now have an environmental agenda. Having an external reference like World Environment Day helps to bring focus on actions we must all take.
The pandemic has altered the way we mark events such as World Environment Day. Do you think the COVID-19 crisis will change the way we think about the environment?
Howard Oakes, Global Head of Health, Safety and Environment at Aliaxis: COVID-19 is heightening public sensitivity towards the vulnerabilities that we still have when it comes to infectious diseases. In particular, provision of safe water for drinking, washing and hygiene purposes is crucial to fighting the spread of such diseases. Similarly, provision of sewerage is necessary to control potentially harmful wastewater. These are all solutions that Aliaxis facilitates.
The theme of World Environment Day this year is biodiversity. What is Aliaxis doing to support this agenda?
HO: It is an important issue for us — our products must perform in the natural environment and we must ensure our manufacturing processes do not produce pollution.
We are participating in an industry-wide project called ‘Operation Clean Sweep,’ which is a value chain-wide approach to eliminating leakage of plastic powders and pellets into the environment. Whenever we store, handle or transfer plastic in its powder or pellet form, we want to do so in a way that ensures that none escapes, especially into rivers, lakes and oceans.
It is difficult to quantify how much microplastic is making its way into the oceans as a result of transportation and manufacturing, but it is potentially significant. Our goal at Aliaxis is zero pollution.
How are Aliaxis products solving environmental issues?
HO: Fundamentally, plastic has many attributes for pipe and fitting applications that enable the efficient use of natural resources. It does not corrode, it is relatively easy to install and connect, and internal surfaces tend to stay smooth. Leakage from plastic pipe systems tends to be significantly less than you would get from other products, and the working lifespan of plastic fittings is typically over 100 years – there are not many products that offer that sort of durability, meaning less leaks and less waste.
We, along with others in our industry, have also made strides towards eliminating, environmentally, the use of harmful additives. For example, none of our products now contain lead-based additives.
SA: If you compare the production process of metals with plastic in terms of carbon emissions, plastic typically requires less energy use and has then less impact compared with copper – and other metals production. Plastics are also lighter, meaning they require less energy for transportation.
‘Water stress’ is becoming a major issue in many countries. How is Aliaxis tackling this?
SA: We know that the climate is changing with more extreme weather conditions. There is an opportunity for Aliaxis to be part of the solution, for example by providing products that help to buffer water. The objective is to store water temporarily for irrigation or filling underground water reserves, avoiding flooding or water going straight to sea.
HO: Water is an increasingly stressed resource around the world, and as a result there is a growing societal need for efficient solutions. This is both an opportunity and a challenge, and many solutions are quite localised. In many parts of India, for example, there is a growing interest in micro irrigation to help preserve groundwater. This is an area in which Aliaxis can really make a difference.