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PVC Irrigation Alternative

Wednesday November 11, 2009


What is PVC?

Simply put, PVC (Polyvinyl chloride) is a material formed by combining plastic and vinyl polymers.  The result is a durable, flexible and long-lasting material that has found its way into nearly every sector of manufacturing including construction materials, electronics, piping, clothing, food packaging, and many more. As landscapers and gardeners in a warm-weather climate, we install miles of PVC pipe to carry and distribute our irrigation water.

To the general public, PVC is so common that it must be seen as benign.  However, the vast majority of Americans are unaware of the volatile status surrounding the health and environmental impacts of the manufacture, use, and disposal of PVC.  In recent years, a number of studies in the US and abroad have found links between the manufacture and use of PVC with serious health effects. In addition, many of the byproducts of manufacture are toxic and are bioaccumulative (meaning they are fat-soluable and may work up through the food chain similar to mercury in predatory fish and mammals in the ocean).

In turn, some manufacturers have voluntarily begun to remove PVC from their products.  For example, that "new car smell" may in part be the outgassing of potentially lethal additives found in PVC.  In response, Toyota, Honda and Nissan have all banned PVC in their car interiors for this reason.  Medical institutions are phasing out PVC from drip bags and tubing.  And Apple has removed PVC entirely from its iMacs and Macbooks.  The list goes on and on...

PVC in the Landscape

As the negative effects of PVC/dioxins are acknowledged by more and more, the manufacturing industry is slowly removing it from consumer products.   But as Californian landscapers and gardeners, what will we replace or repair our irrigation systems with?  Do we even need to consider exclusion of PVC?

As thousands of miles of piping already exist in the landscape, it would be counter-productive to simply rip out all the PVC and replace with something else.  This would be wasteful and energy offensive.  But when planning for new irrigation installations or major repairs and upgrades, it may be beneficial to consider an alternative product.

Although it may seem like there are no alternatives, cold-climate landscapers have been installing systems without PVC piping for years because of freeze and heave concerns.  These systems are comprised of standard HDPE (High Density Polyethylene) flexible piping and barbed insert fittings that are inserted into the pipe and fastened with stainless steel screw clamps. Although this type of system is not appropriate for constant pressure mainlines, HDPE can be heat-fused to create high-pressure lines, but acquiring the necessary equipment and material often makes this solution impractical, especially on small or medium sized jobs.

In addition, innovative products are beginning to hit the California market to replace PVC in the irrigation world.    One such product is Blu-Lock by Hydro-Rain (  Blu-Lock is a complete irrigation product line intended to revolutionize the way irrigation is installed.  A couple of the product's benefits include:

  • Flexible HDPE piping replaces PVC pipe. HDPE (High Density Polyethylene) is recyclable and produces fewer harmful byproducts during manufacture, installation, use, or after disposal.
  • Patented "push and go" design has created fittings that do not require noxious primer or glue.
  • Without the priming, gluing, burr removal and the "push and go" design, the installation of Blu-Lock is rapid. See Blu-Lock in action:


Unfortunately, Blu-Lock is not rated for constant pressure mainlines so some other material must be used for mainlines. 

As it stands now, the landscape industry has solutions available for non-pressure lateral lines but awaits a product that is easy to install, PVC free, and rated for constant pressure mainlines.  Hopefully a solution follows the tail of technological progress and increasing public demand for removal of PVC from consumer products.



Further Reading:

Environmental Impacts of Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) Building Materials, A briefing paper for the Healthy Building Network, by Joe Thornton, Ph.D.

European Commision on Environment, Waste, and PVC

EurActiv's Environmental Issues of PVC

Wikipedia Article on PVC

PVC Advocacy Group Website