The vast majority of commodity plastics do not degrade and therefore they permanently pollute the environment. At present, less than 20% of post-consumer plastic waste in developed countries is recycled, predominately for energy recovery or repurposing as lower-value materials by mechanical recycling. Chemical recycling offers an opportunity to revert plastics back to monomers for repolymerization to virgin materials without altering the properties of the material or the economic value of the polymer. For plastic waste that is either cost prohibitive or infeasible to mechanically or chemically recycle, the nascent field of chemical upcycling promises to use chemical or engineering approaches to place plastic waste at the beginning of a new value chain. Here state-of-the-art methods are highlighted for upcycling plastic waste into value-added performance materials, fine chemicals and specialty polymers. By identifying common conceptual approaches, we critically discuss how the advantages and challenges of each approach contribute to the goal of realizing a sustainable plastics economy.
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C.J. and H.S. thank the Spanish Ministry for the excellence Grant POLYCE and the Basque University for the EHUrOPE grant. F.A.L. and J.W.A. acknowledge support from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research award number 17RT0487 under the Young Investigator Program. S.D.M. and M.R. acknowledge support from VLAIO and the Catalisti Moonshot programme through the PREFER project (The plastics refinery: No more waste - HBC20202609) and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) via the PSYCHE project (Interreg France-Wallonie-Vlaanderen) with co-financing from the provinces of East-Flanders and West-Flanders. E.Y.-X.C. acknowledges support from the BOTTLE Consortium funded by the US Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Advanced Manufacturing Office and Bioenergy Technologies Office under contract number DE-AC36-08GO28308 with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, operated by Alliance for Sustainable Energy. A.P.D. acknowledges the financial support from the University of Birmingham.
The authors declare no competing interests.
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Jehanno, C., Alty, J.W., Roosen, M. et al. Critical advances and future opportunities in upcycling commodity polymers. Nature 603, 803–814 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-04350-0
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