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The disposal of waste plastics has become a major worldwide environmental problem. The USA, Europe and Japan generate annually about 50 million tons of post-consumer plastic waste, previously landfilled, generally considered as a non-sustainable and environmentally questionable option. Landfill sites and their capacity are, moreover, decreasing rapidly, and legislation is stringent. Several European Directives and US legislation concern plastic wastes and the required management. They are briefly discussed in this paper. New processes have emerged, i.e., advanced mechanical recycling of plastic waste as virgin or second grade plastic feedstock, and thermal treatments to recycle the waste as virgin monomer, as synthetic fuel gas, or as heat source (incineration with energy recovery). These processes avoid land filling, where the non-biodegradable plastics remain a lasting environmental burden. The paper reviews these alternative options through mostly thermal processing (pyrolysis, gasification and waste-to-energy). Additional research is, however, still needed to confirm the potential on pilot and commercial scale. [Acknowledgments. The research was partly funded by the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities RC1101 (PR China) and partly funded by Project KP/09/005 (SCORES4CHEM Knowledge Platform) of the Industrial Research Council of the KU Leuven (Belgium).]
PAPER REVISED: 2012-04-24
PAPER ACCEPTED: 2012-06-14
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THERMAL SCIENCE YEAR 2012, VOLUME 16, ISSUE Issue 3, PAGES [669 - 685]
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