Are you looking to grow your organic food?
No, you don’t need to purchase land to be a farmer, leave your urban lifestyle, and reside in the countryside to do that.
Hydroponics, a sub-division of horticulture, allows you to grow your organic food within the limits of your household. And that too, without you toil in the soil or dirty your hands.
Moreover, you are 100% sure of not having any inorganic components, as you will grow your food without using an ounce of pesticides or insecticides.
Nowadays you can notice that many people are using PVC pipes to grow foods hydroponically. But, is PVC safe for hydroponics?
Well, you shouldn’t use normal PVCs in your hydroponic system, as they carry risk of plasticizing. However, you can use uPVC (unplasticized PVC) as it does not plasticize, so there won’t be any risk of contamination. It falls under food-grade plastic, so it’s safe to use.
For an ideal hydroponics plant, you need to regulate the water flow to reach all the plants you have planted. Since stagnant water is poorly oxygenated, algae and pathogens may develop in it, which are harmful to your plants.
An ideal piping system is required so that the water reservoir has air flowing through it, helping the roots to use the oxygen and absorb nutrients efficiently. PVC pipes are most commonly used as it suffices most of the needs for erecting an ideal hydroponics plant.
There are several valid reasons for using PVC pipes for hydroponics. Firstly, you can work out the grid design of how you want to arrange your urban farming area with the help of PVC pipes.
Secondly, PVC pipes are budget-friendly compared to metal and plastics and are widely available. It gives you more room to come up with a decent hydroponics plant. In addition, PVC is neither toxic nor soluble and offers to erect an ideal hydroponics plant due to its flexibility, lightweight and resistant nature.
The durability of PVC pipes is another factor that adds value to your hydroponic farm. It lasts much longer,, thereby keeping your investment runningrunning across a sizable amount of years without requiring any replacement.
They don’t break or crack, which happens in the case of polyethylene pipes due to stress and pressure.
Is PVC Safe For Hydroponics?
PVCs are synthetically produced using natural gas and rock salt through heating, electrolysis, melting, polymerization, and molding. Under the seven standard classifications for plastic reuse, PVCs rank third number.
PVCs are of various types, but to erect your hydroponic plant avoid using normal PVCs as they risk plasticizing. Always use uPVC (unplasticized PVC) as it does not plasticize; therefore, there’s no risk of contamination. uPVC falls under food-grade plastic, a material that has been pronounced safe to use with food by the FDA.
Along with FDA, organizations like US EPA, American National Standards Institute (ANSI), NSF International, ASTM International, and American Water Works Association (AWWAI) also approve the usage of uPVC and cPVC for hydroponic systems, as they comply with the standards laid down by these institutions.
Before you start work on your hydroponic plant with PVC, always ensure you use food-grade PVC. Check for the NSA-51 rating, where NSF means National Sanitation Foundation. NSF is responsible for setting and testing the standards for the health and environmental safety of the public.
NSF-51 rating will ensure that the material has passed all the standards required to be used for food and the material is safe when it interacts with foods and drinks.
Regular PVC vs Food-Safe PVC
Regular PVCs are widely used for their affordability, resistance, and lightweight. Manufacturers add plasticizers to it to gain more flexibility and softness. Due to plasticizers, these PVCs should not be used for foods and beverages and when planning to erect a hydroponic plant.
PVC that doesn’t have plasticizers are Rigid PVC or uPVC and therefore is considered a Safe Food PVC. BPA (bisphenol A) or phthalates are absent in this material, so it can be used for outdoor and gardening purposes.
Different Types of PVC and Their Use Cases Explained
For a better understanding, let’s look at various types of PVCs so you have the right kind of PVC for your hydroponic plant.
- P-PVC (plasticized PVC): This PVC material has plasticizers for flexibility and durability, thereby having Bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates. These PVCs aren’t permitted to be used for foods and beverages.
- U-PVC (unplasticized PVC): This material doesn’t have plasticizers. It is used mainly for transporting and storing water. These PVCs can be used for your hydroponic plant. The material can be used for both residential and commercial areas.
- C-PVC (chlorinated PVC): It is somewhat similar to U-PVC, but the chlorine content is high. It is also highly resistant to heat and has better flexibility. This material is more stable, and is mainly used in residential complexes for storing drinking water and hydroponic systems.
- O-PVC (molecularly oriented PVC): It is the enhanced version of U-PVC, having greater resistance.
- HI-PVC (high-impact PVC): This PVC is mainly produced by blending different polymers to have the highest resistance and durability to attain industrial grade. Due to the high quality of these PVCs, they are mainly used to transport natural gas.
Advantages of using PVC in hydroponics
PVC pipes are remarkably less expensive than metal or plastic pipes. PVC pipes are affordable, making it easy to build a beautiful hydroponic garden system. The PVC pipes’ low cost allows you to test the entire hydroponics concept.
Flexible for indoor and outdoor use
The PVC pipes function quite well, no matter the weather. Other materials lack this feature. Certain materials may shatter or even crack because they cannot survive the weather conditions. Since PVC pipes can endure severe weather conditions outside, obviously, they will work quite well indoors.
PVC pipes are widely used and rank as the third most-produced material on the global level. It helps it be available irrespective of where you plan to build your hydroponic plant.
PVC pipes are rigid, lightweight, and highly durable, yet easy to cut. Different designs of grids are possible with PVC pipes, and you can install them on your own without involving a professional to do the job.
You get a variety of arrangements with PVC pipes. There are abundant sizes and varieties of PVC fittings with different schedules and thicknesses.
Due to their non-metallic nature, PVCs don’t rust or corrode or accumulate harmful depositions due to oxidation. In contrast to polyethylene pipes that may break or split, they can withstand abrupt pressure and stress. They last for quite a long period and don’t require any replacement for many years.
Safe for Use
In the case of uPVC, there is no risk of them getting contaminated with micro-organisms, a common problem in metallic pipes and plasticized PVCs. It ensures the plantation also remains safe to consume.
Disadvantages of using PVC in hydroponics
There are always two sides to everything, and PVC is no exception. Let’s understand some disadvantages of using PVC in a hydroponic system.
Roots may get stuck inside the PVC pipes
The plant’s stem grows upwards, facing the sky, while the roots grow deeper. There may be instances when the roots of your plants get stuck in the pipes and block the flow of water.
To avoid this problem, you can apply a coat of permeable fabric inside the pipe to prevent roots from sticking into the pipes, thereby blocking the water flow.
Can’t tolerate the excess heat
PVCs are prone to melt when subjected to extreme temperatures. Avoid this situation, as it may burn your crops by dehydrating them completely.
In addition, there is a risk of PVC pipes getting toxic in such situations. The good part is these situations are rare and may result if your hydroponic plant area catches fire.
Not All PVC Types are Safe to Use
Some of the various types of PVC are hazardous to your health. Let’s see what PVCs are harmful to your body.
- Polyethylene Terephthalate: This PVC is flexible, soft, and vulnerable to heat and stress. The smell of food easily seeps into the container made from this PVC even after washing thoroughly.
- This PVC isn’t safe for a hydroponic system, as whenever this material gets exposed to extreme weather conditions, chemicals from this PVC may leach into the water and then into the plant.
- Other types of PVC may contain phthalates, cadmium, lead, etc., that are toxic for kids. The toxic elements may evaporate and get mixed into the air, damaging your kids’ health.
How to Protect PVC from Heat and UV Light?
PVC, despite being stable, may drain out chemicals under harsh temperatures. PVCs may start to deteriorate at severe temperatures greater than 60° C, i.e. 140° F. We don’t use warm water in hydroponics and regulate the water temperature,
So it won’t affect the system initially. But UV light may initiate leaching that spawns algae and other microorganisms in the hydroponic system water. To avoid this problem, apply a coat on white PVC pipes with latex-based paint to resist heat and UV rays.
Best Plastic Types To Use With Hydroponics
Apart from uPVC and cPVC, other types of plastics can be used for the hydroponics system. Let us understand what kind of plastic suits well that you can use for your Hydroponics system.
|Characteristic||HIgh-Density Polyethylene||Low-Density Polyethylene||Polypropylene||Polystyrene|
|Used for||Milk, Yoghurt containers||Food storage containers and bags||Straws, syringes, bottle caps||Foam products, plastic spoon, and forks|
|Leaching of chemicals||No||No||No||No|
|More info||Tolerant to heat and bans UV rays||Strong resistance toward adverse weathers||Less Heat Tolerance||Not suitable to carry heavy objects|
|Suitable for hydroponic system||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
Best Non-Plastic Alternatives for Hydroponics
In case you have reservations about using PVC for the plastic it has in it, there are other types of non-plastic alternatives that you can use to build your hydroponic plant.
You can use copper pipes in place of PVC. Copper is one of the sources of micronutrients for plants. Plants use copper to facilitate the production of chlorophyll and seeds. Less copper may lead to developing diseases like ergot in plants, yielding small grains than average size.
On the flip side, there’s a risk of using copper for your hydroponic plant. The water used for the hydroponic plant has a pH of 5.5 to 6.5, indicating it falls on the acidic side. Some plants like canna are known to adsorb acid quickly and pass it to their bud, damaging the plant.
Copper may leach toxic chemicals due to the acidic nature of the water. Therefore consider this application by thoroughly studying beforehand, in case you decide to use this metal.
You can use ceramic pipes, but they won’t offer you the flexibility the PVC offers. It may be hard to cut them according to your grid design. Heavier weight may also put some constraints while erecting the plant. In addition, they are susceptible to breaking or cracking in extreme conditions.
Glass pipes are a great alternative, cleaner than PVCs, but this will be expensive and hard to install, and won’t be affordable in the long run. A slight shock may shatter the glass and you will have to replace the pipes frequently, which is a bad idea.
In such a scenario, it will be difficult for your plants to survive until they grow fully.
Bamboo is also a great alternative and a sustainable approach. But we are doubtful of its affordability and availability, in case a bamboo pipe gets damaged and you don’t want to run a helter-skelter to replace it.
You can think of a mix of the above materials with uPVC pipes. Since having an entire plant made from any of the materials may not be feasible, you can think of having some of the above materials installed in some areas in your plant made up of uPVC, to have minimum toxicity.
uPVC itself will not ooze out any toxicity, but if you want to play a bit safer, then you can think of using a mix of the above materials with the uPVC hydroponic system, to check on the toxicity.
Frequently Asked Questions (fAQs)
What is food-grade plastic?
Any plastic that is safe to interact with food or used to store food for a substantial time is food-grade plastic.
Is PVC safe for aquaponics?
Not all PVCs are safe, but uPVC is the safest option for aquaponic systems.
Hydroponic systems may soon be seen as a boon by urban folks. It will help them to grow their crops irrespective of their area and without needing soil.
The best and ideal way to build a hydroponic system is using the uPVC pipes. uPVC pipes are rigid and are known to stand undeterred in extreme weather conditions. Coated with appropriate paints, they resist heat and block the UV rays, which may harm the plants.