PerspectivePOLYMER CHEMISTRY

The future of plastics recycling

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Science  17 Nov 2017:
Vol. 358, Issue 6365, pp. 870-872
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaq0324

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Summary

The environmental consequences of plastic solid waste are visible in the ever-increasing levels of global plastic pollution both on land and in the oceans. But although there are important economic and environmental incentives for plastics recycling, end-of-life treatment options for plastic solid waste are in practice quite limited. Presorting of plastics before recycling is costly and time-intensive, recycling requires large amounts of energy and often leads to low-quality polymers, and current technologies cannot be applied to many polymeric materials. Recent research points the way toward chemical recycling methods with lower energy requirements, compatibilization of mixed plastic wastes to avoid the need for sorting, and expanding recycling technologies to traditionally nonrecyclable polymers.