Definition of plastic in English:



  • 1[mass noun] A synthetic material made from a wide range of organic polymers such as polyethylene, PVC, nylon, etc., that can be moulded into shape while soft, and then set into a rigid or slightly elastic form.

    ‘mains pipes should be made of plastic or copper’
    [count noun] ‘bottles can be made from a variety of plastics’
    • ‘We had curbside recycling for paper, plastic, glass and tin cans.’
    • ‘One woman carried a picture frame encased in transparent plastic.’
    • ‘Most plastics, varnishes and packaging foams are made from chemicals derived from petroleum.’
    • ‘A bill to deal with beverage containers would discourage the use of plastic by imposing a levy on manufacturers who use plastic bottles, and would encourage the return and recycling of bottles.’
    • ‘People were wearing dust masks and everything stank of burnt plastic.’
    • ‘There was a time when outdoor furniture was either teak, aluminum, or plastic.’
    • ‘The case is made of light-gray plastic.’
    • ‘Do not put either glass or plastic in hot water; they may crack, especially if cold.’
    • ‘Protect your furniture and carpet by laying down plastic, then newspaper.’
    • ‘Her house is a shack made of sticks, black plastic and a few sheets of tin.’
    • ‘The Dublin company is one of Europe's leading producers of clear sheet plastic, with a 30 per cent share in that market.’
    • ‘Water bottles have expiration dates, not because the water goes bad, but because the plastic which stores the water affects the taste.’
    1. 1.1informal Credit cards or other types of plastic card that can be used as money.
      ‘he pays with cash instead of with plastic’
      • ‘Check out the fantastic plastic in our Credit Card centre.’
      • ‘Each plastic card resembles a credit card, but is in fact a completely self contained microcomputer with its own embedded software and memory.’
      • ‘Hence, with so much plastic in circulation, Britain needs to treat its credit cards with respect.’
      • ‘The number of credit and store cards has doubled to 74 million, which means that every adult holds two pieces of credit plastic in his or her wallet.’
      • ‘Some feared that the charges would erode the card's upscale position as the premium-priced plastic.’
      • ‘Check out our Credit Card centre for your perfect plastic.’
      • ‘I wouldn't like to have a cheque book or plastic.’
      • ‘However, in the meantime, play safe: take as much care with your loyalty cards as you do with your cash and other plastic.’
      • ‘If you've got money in the bank then using plastic shouldn't be a problem.’
      • ‘These cards are ideal for users of plastic who always pay off their account each month.’
      • ‘So, you'd be barking mad to use any plastic abroad, other than a Nationwide BS or SAGA card.’
      • ‘At the same time, AmEx will step up its drive to wean large companies and small businesses from checks to corporate plastic.’
      • ‘Getting them to embrace plastic may be an impossible feat.’
      • ‘Did you know that if you laid all of Britain's credit and debt cards end-to-end, the line of plastic would stretch from London to Bangkok?’
      • ‘Swapping your expensive plastic for a credit card that charges no interest on balance transfers and purchases for up to nine months.’
      • ‘She lives within a strict budget, and the only plastic in her wallet is a debit card.’
      • ‘Instead, I poke my piece of plastic into a slot and get my money.’
      • ‘They buy chips in dollars with credit cards and have their winnings refunded back to the plastic.’
      • ‘If your new plastic is a ‘% only on balance transfers’ card, you won't be going shopping with it.’
      • ‘Anxious to be a-doing, I hied myself to an Office Depot in the South of Market district and laid down some plastic for a Palm Vx.’
      credit card, debit card, cash card, swipe card
      View synonyms


  • 1Made of plastic.

    ‘plastic bottles’
    • ‘He unhooked his arm and grabbed a plastic cup from the bag on the counter.’
    • ‘The rockets are plastic toys suspended from strings.’
    • ‘This means that all newspapers, cardboard and plastic drinks bottles can now be easily disposed of, instead of having these items dumped in landfill sites.’
    • ‘Wrap each sandwich in heavy plastic wrap and freeze individually.’
    • ‘I should at least get marks for effort: I have gone to coffee mornings, decorated boxes with gold paint and plastic jewels and operated the tea-urn at a tabletop sale.’
    • ‘Often customers will reuse plastic containers long after their contents are gone, especially when it still looks good.’
    • ‘The particles could be incorporated into a wide range of products, as well as socks, including other clothing, shoes, food containers and other plastic products.’
    • ‘An impressive 53 percent of plastic soda bottles were recycled in 1994, but only 35.6 percent in 1998.’
    • ‘Remember when you'd go to the beach with your little plastic bucket and shovel?’
    • ‘The animals are placed in plastic dish tubs and, using a mixture of warm water and a dab of mild soap, rescue workers scrub the birds' feathers.’
    • ‘As distributors of paperboard cartons work to reinvigorate their packages, plastic milk bottles continue to grow in influence.’
    • ‘It was a yellow plastic banana board with orange wheels.’
    • ‘Each tissue sample was excised using a biopsy forceps and placed within the small plastic container.’
    • ‘This is when he graciously grants himself permission to empty a shopping bag full of cheap plastic sunglasses onto the table in front of me.’
    • ‘Like most sparkling water in plastic bottles, it can overflow when you remove the cap.’
    • ‘Pour into small moulds or a single bowl, cover with plastic film then place in the refrigerator to set.’
    • ‘These buckets are of a plastic material and hold about four gallons of perlite.’
    • ‘If you're using plastic pots the soil can become quite warm.’
    • ‘Large plastic containers are used during the first day or two of brewing home made beer.’
    • ‘This eye-catching, bright orange plastic bottle sports a jazzy front label that insists only natural flavours are used, no artificial sweeteners are added, and the drink is fortified with vitamins and calcium.’
    1. 1.1Artificial or unnatural.
      ‘a holiday rep with huge white teeth and a plastic smile’
      • ‘There will be no air hostesses to flash their plastic smiles!’
      • ‘She looks at me and puts on a plastic smile. ‘Sir, it will take about ten minutes if you don't mind waiting.’’
      • ‘For a boy who has appeared fatigued and cynical in the last few months it was an incredible performance - funny, charismatic and sung in a voice that is rare in these days of phoney plastic bands.’
      • ‘Next week, our fake plastic love for Radiohead.’
      • ‘Mom smiled politely with a plastic giggle here and there.’
      • ‘Her eyes did not linger long on them, she felt as if they were superficial, fake, plastic.’
      • ‘They both stopped and flashed plastic smiles when the harried young man made eye contact with them.’
      • ‘She looks up at me with a plastic smile, almost challenging me to argue with her.’
      • ‘Giving him a plastic smile, Lenore headed towards the stables.’
      • ‘Every time I fly into New Zealand I get a lump in my throat, but I'm always convinced it's the plastic airline food.’
      • ‘I could feel her trying to fight back the tears and sadness she had felt all these years, hidden behind a plastic smile put on so she wouldn't upset Dad.’
      • ‘I flashed a sweet plastic smile and turned away, trying to walk on unsteady feet towards the door leading to the elevator banks.’
      • ‘It's refreshing to see that there is so much creativity in this plastic world we're in.’
      • ‘From time to time I still dig out my Elvis ring or wear my Charlie Brown necklace to relive the nostalgia - it always makes me smile to see the plastic shiny silliness of it all.’
      • ‘A study conducted a few years ago with Downs Syndrome children called for some of them to be trained to smile, even if it was just a plastic smile.’
      • ‘She smiled at her with a cold, plastic smile.’
      • ‘She gave me a totally plastic smile and waved her hand at me.’
      • ‘After she broke down in the dressing room, all she could try to do was fake a plastic smile and pray that it will be over soon.’
      • ‘‘Everything about him was right,’ she bleats, apparently failing to notice that he had a fake plastic face.’
      • ‘I know that you've seen his plastic smile on a thousand eager faces before.’
      artificial, false, synthetic, fake, superficial, pseudo, sham, bogus, ersatz, assumed, spurious, specious, unnatural, insincere
      View synonyms
  • 2(of substances or materials) easily shaped or moulded.

    ‘rendering the material more plastic’
    • ‘The process to make the cap includes positioning viscous plastic material in a mold to produce the desired retention member shape.’
    • ‘Meanwhile, polymer scientists are doing fundamental research, seeking ever more conductive plastic materials.’
    • ‘These products have little or no effect on the plastic or hardened properties of concrete.’
    • ‘They are working on making the cells into a flexible plastic material.’
    • ‘This is a thin film that's been coated onto a flexible plastic material backed by a strong glue.’
    • ‘Wet into wet, and the use of salt or alcohol in wet paint suggested the plastic foam material from which the noodles are made.’
    • ‘To a significant extent the siltstone has been transformed into a plastic material, particularly near shear zones.’
    • ‘New materials have come from the chemical industry and from the molecular engineering of new plastic substances.’
    • ‘At this point, they are still moving around pretty fast, so they are bounced around in a nearby plastic material.’
    malleable, mouldable, shapable, pliable, pliant, ductile, flexible, soft, workable, supple, bendable
    View synonyms
    1. 2.1Offering scope for creativity.
      ‘the writer is drawn to words as a plastic medium’
      • ‘Like reading, writing was a plastic medium which filled various needs and purposes.’
      • ‘Such activities were not only affirming but also emotively comforting to the client in ways that more plastic mediums have not been.’
      • ‘Lithic technology is generally viewed as a less plastic medium for the expression of style.’
    2. 2.2Relating to moulding or modelling in three dimensions, or to produce three-dimensional effects.
      ‘the plastic arts’
      • ‘Four principal types of source pertain to the subject: literature, works of graphic or plastic art, archaeological remains, and notated pieces of music.’
      • ‘‘We will be looking at using the Pickering plant for plastic moulding work not related to the car industry,’ he said.’
      • ‘Study of his comments on plastic dynamism confirm this reading.’
      • ‘The topic was also addressed for several day through works of plastic art and performances.’
      • ‘To the ancient Greeks, the body was an object of esthetic contemplation, raised by their plastic art to the loftiest peaks of sublimity.’
      • ‘You can't make art - literary or plastic - without taking on the matter of form.’
      • ‘What others had done for poetic art, this he did for plastic art.’
    3. 2.3(in science and technology) relating to the permanent deformation of a solid without fracture by the temporary application of force.
      • ‘A significant amount of the total plastic deformation therefore occurs in the microcracks grow and link up in the final stages of fracture.’
      • ‘It should also be added that the fine precipitate particles can act as dislocation multiplication centers during plastic deformation.’
      • ‘The stress at which plastic deformation or yielding is observed to begin depends on the sensitivity of the strain measurements.’
      • ‘Ruptures originating at plastic deformations of loaded sand bed formed stretch marks with sand penetrating through them to the clay.’
      • ‘Heat is also released by plastic deformation associated with jetting and ripple formation at the interface between the parts being welded.’
      • ‘In crystalline solids, plastic deformation tends to be confined to crystallographic planes of atoms which have a low resistance to shear.’
      • ‘Any attempt to do so results in greater deformation of the rolls, without any plastic deformation of the strip.’
      • ‘Similar dynamics is observed in the plastic deformation of solids, in particular glasses.’
      • ‘Yielding occurs from point A to point B and this is the area of plastic deformation.’
      • ‘The NDT is the temperature at which fracture initiates with essentially no prior plastic deformation.’
      • ‘Increases in axle loads and tyre pressures are creating plastic strain in some crushed rocks with sprayed seal and thin asphalt surfacings.’
      • ‘Normally, such plastic deformations result in developing smooth or gently wrinkled boundary surfaces.’
      • ‘Thus rigid pipes are less sensitive to crushing and more sensitive to plastic deformation and buckling than their flexible equivalents.’
      • ‘There was asphalt cracking due to tensile strain resulting from plastic deformation within the crushed rock.’
      • ‘This limits local concentrations of plastic deformation and suppresses fatigue damage.’
      • ‘Therefore, micropipette aspiration deforms the cell with a mixture of elastic and plastic deformations.’
      • ‘He postulated that the energy due to plastic deformation must be added to the surface energy associated with the creation of new crack surfaces.’
      • ‘Little or no plastic deformation is seen in tracheid walls in ring 26, which is the last ring formed in the tree.’
      • ‘The main component of this deformation is the plastic strain of cell walls.’
      • ‘AFM data, described below, also did not show any obvious plastic deformation after repeated indentation.’
  • 3Biology
    Exhibiting adaptability to change or variety in the environment.

    • ‘Genotypic selection was measured on plastic traits in each environment to test whether the observed direction of plasticity was adaptive.’
    • ‘Similarly many behavioral traits are plastic across environments.’
    • ‘Instead, the brain is plastic, and our quota of happiness can be enhanced through mental training.’
    • ‘Do plastic traits affect reproductive fitness, suggesting that they may be under natural selection depending on environmental conditions experienced by the plants?’
    • ‘Every system which would escape the fate of an organism too rigid to adjust itself to its environment, must be plastic to the extent that the growth of knowledge demands.’


Mid 17th century (in the sense ‘characteristic of moulding’): from French plastique or Latin plasticus, from Greek plastikos, from plassein to mould.