Waste not, want not: The increase in waste polymer generation, which continues to exceed recycle, represents a critical environmental burden. However, plastic waste may be viewed as a potential resource and, with the correct treatment, can serve as hydrocarbon raw material or as fuel oil, as described in this Minireview.
Effective waste management must address waste reduction, reuse, recovery, and recycle. The consumption of plastics continues to grow, and, while plastic recycle has seen a significant increase since the early 1990s, consumption still far exceeds recycle. However, waste plastic can be viewed as a potential resource and can serve, with the correct treatment, as hydrocarbon raw material or as fuel oil. This Minireview considers the role of catalysis in waste polymer reprocessing and provides a critical overview of the existing waste plastic treatment technologies. Thermal pyrolysis results in a random scissioning of the polymer chains, generating products with varying molecular weights. Catalytic degradation provides control over the product composition/distribution and serves to lower significantly the degradation temperature. Incineration of waste PVC is very energy demanding and can result in the formation of toxic chloro emissions. The efficacy of a catalytic transformation of PVC is also discussed.