We consider the application of the general theory of unitary matrices to problems of wave scattering involving polarized waves. Haying outlined useful parameterizations of the low dimensional groups associated with these unitary matrices, we develop a general processing strategy, which we suggest has application in the extraction of physical information from a range of scattering matrices in optics. Examples are presented of applying the unitary matrix structure to problems of single and multiple scattering from a cloud of random particles. The techniques are best suited to characterization of depolarizing systems, where the scattered waves undergo a change of degree as well as polarization state. The degree of disorder of the system is then quantified by a scalar, the polarimetric entropy, defined from the eigenvalues of a scattering matrix that ranges from 0 for systems with zero scattering to 1 for perfect depolarizers. Further, we show that the unitary matrix parameterization can be used to extract important system information from the eigenvectors of this matrix.