Plastic waste upcycling toward a circular economy

Xianhui Zhao, Matthew Korey, Kai Li, Katie Copenhaver, Halil Tekinalp, Serdar Celik, Kyriaki Kalaitzidou, Roger Ruan, Arthur J. Ragauskas, Soydan Ozcan

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

84 Scopus citations


Large amounts of plastics are discarded worldwide each year, leading to a significant mass of waste in landfills and pollution to soil, air, and waterways. Upcycling is an efficient way to transform plastic waste into high-value products and can significantly lessen the environmental impact of plastic production/consumption. In this article, current advances and future directions in plastic waste upcycling technologies are discussed. In particular, this review focuses on the production of high-value materials from plastic waste conversion methods, including pyrolysis, gasification, photoreforming, and mechanical reprocessing. Plastic waste compositions, conversion products, reaction mechanisms, catalyst selection, conversion efficiencies, polymer design, and polymer modification are also explored. The main challenges facing the adoption and scale-up of these technologies are highlighted. Suggestions are given for focusing future research and development to increase the efficiency of upcycling practices.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number131928
JournalChemical Engineering Journal
StatePublished - Aug 1 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors acknowledge the support from the US Department of Energy (DOE), Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Advanced Manufacturing Office, under CPS Agreement number 36863. The authors thank members of the Advanced Composites Manufacturing Group and Carbon and Composites Group of Oak Ridge National Laboratory for their generous help during the research. This manuscript was authored in part by UT-Battelle LLC under contract DE-AC05-00OR22725 with DOE. The US government retains and the publisher, by accepting the article for publication, acknowledges that the US government retains a nonexclusive, paid-up, irrevocable, worldwide license to publish or reproduce the published form of this manuscript, or allow others to do so, for US government purposes. DOE will provide public access to these results of federally sponsored research in accordance with the DOE Public Access Plan (

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Elsevier B.V.


  • Catalysis
  • Compatibilizer
  • Energy
  • Plastic waste
  • Recycle
  • Upcycle


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