The objective was to provide comprehensive life cycle inventories for the construction and renovation of sewers. A detailed inventory was provided with multiple options of pipe materials, diameters and site-specific characteristics, and was embedded into the Excel®-based tool SewerLCA. The tool allows for life cycle evaluation of different sewers. It was applied to determine the most important phases, processes, and related parameters involved in the construction and renovation of sewers from an environmental and economical perspective.
Comprehensive life cycle inventories (LCIs) for sewers construction and renovation were obtained by first identifying all processes involved after interviewing construction experts and reviewing sewer construction budgets from a Catalan company; and second transforming the processes into masses of materials and energy usage using construction databases. In order to run the life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) the materials and energy typologies from the inventories were matched to their corresponding equivalents into available LCI databases. Afterwards the potential impacts were calculated through the use of LCIA characterization factors from ReCiPe. Life cycle assessment (LCA) was run several times to assess the construction of a 1-km-long sewer with varying pipe materials, life spans for each material, diameters, transport distances, site-specific characteristics, and pipe deposition options.
Results and discussion
The environmental impacts generated by construction and renovation of a 1 km Polyvinylchloride (PVC) pipe with a diameter of 40 cm are mainly associated with pipe laying and backfilling of the trench. The evaluation of several pipe materials and diameters shows that the exclusion of renovation would underestimate the impacts by 38 to 82 % depending on the pipe materials and diameters. Including end-of-life phase for plastic pipe materials increases climate change (up to an extra 71 %) and human toxicity (up to an extra 147 %) impacts (among all diameters). The preferred pipe materials from an environmental point of view are precast concrete and High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE). Site-specific characteristics (specially the presence of rocky soil and asphalt placement) and material life span have a high influence on the overall environmental profile, whereas changes in transport distances have only a minor impact (<4 %).
Environmental impacts during the construction and renovation of sewers are subject to differences in material type, site-specific characteristics and material life span. Renovation of sewers has a large influence on all potential environmental impacts and costs and, hence, should not be omitted in LCA studies. The treatment and disposal processes of plastic pipes at the end of their life has to be accounted in LCA studies.