Comparative environmental impact analysis of telecommunication utility poles: Treated wood and fibreglass
A Cugliandolo, M Onofrio, A Quaglino
This study is aimed at providing the information necessary to assess the main environmental implications of different materials utilised in construction of utility poles. The study was performed on fibreglass and CCA treated poles timber. The work has been carried out by identifying and quantifying energy and materials used and wasted released during the entire life of the pole. The interactions with the environment have been analysed, estimated and evaluated for their respective production, lifeservice and disposal phase, on the basis of the principles defined by the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (Rio de Janeiro 1992), as sustainable development, precautionary approach, best available technology. According to those principles, results show that quite significantly better performances can be reached with CCA treated poles in terms of processing energy use (about 2 kWh/pole against the 580 kWh/pole necessary for the fibreglass); even the lifeservice extension of the fibreglass product (not really yet known and estimated 40 years in comparison with the 25 - 35 years of a wood treated pole) is not sufficient to compensate for its extremely unfavourable energetic aspect. Otherwise, considering both the material at the end of their use life, a remarkable role is played from fibreglass poles for its wide possibilities of recycling (grinding, gasification, burning, pyrolysis and fluidized bed combustion); even if concrete possibilities of reuse and detoxification are actually adopted for wood products as well. In the assessment of environmental impacts the in-service effects on soil and surrounding water, the CCA leaching can represent a limit to the utilisation of treated wood poles. Studies around the poles have shown amount of CCA components released into the soil of maximum 4,6% by weight of the original salt retention in a treated pole. In conclusion the comparison between the two materials shows a more favourable performance towards the environment for the treated wood products.