What is plastic pollution’s definition? It is an increasingly pervasive environmental issue that has garnered attention from scholars, activists, and policymakers alike. Defined as the accumulation of plastic waste in natural ecosystems, its detrimental effects on marine life, human health, and the planet at large are undeniable. Understanding the concept of plastic pollution involves delving into its multifaceted definition, as articulated by various authors and pioneers in the field.

Etymology of plastic pollution

The term “plastic” originates from the Greek word plastikos1, meaning “capable of being shaped or moulded2.” Its modern usage emerged in the late 19th century, referring to synthetic materials that could be molded into various forms. The widespread adoption of plastic in the mid-20th century led to unprecedented production and consumption levels, resulting in environmental consequences of plastic pollution.

“Pollution,” on the other hand, comes from the Latin word pollutio, meaning “defilement” or “contamination.” It refers to introducing harmful or toxic substances into the environment, adversely affecting ecosystems, wildlife, and human health. The concept of pollution has been recognized throughout history, but it gained significant attention during the Industrial Revolution when widespread environmental degradation became apparent.

Combining these two terms, “plastic pollution,” we can say it is an environmental contamination caused by the accumulation of plastic waste in natural habitats, such as oceans, rivers, and landfills3. The etymology and definition of plastic pollution underscores the pervasive and enduring nature of synthetic polymers in the environment, highlighting the urgent need for solutions to mitigate its harmful impacts.

Who defined plastic pollution?

Among the pioneers in defining plastic pollution is Rachel Carson, whose groundbreaking work “Silent Spring” (1962) drew attention to the adverse effects of chemical pollutants, including plastic, on ecosystems and human health. Carson’s seminal research laid the groundwork for understanding the interconnectedness of environmental degradation and human activities, including the proliferation of plastic waste and its definition of plastic pollution.

Furthermore, the work of marine biologist Captain Charles Moore, who discovered the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the 1990s, shed light on the definition of plastic pollution in our oceans4. His research underscored the urgent need for global action to address plastic waste, its impacts on marine ecosystems, and its definition of plastic pollution.

In addition to these pioneers, contemporary scholars and activists continue to refine and expand upon the definition of plastic pollution, highlighting its systemic nature and calling for holistic approaches to mitigation and prevention and its definition.

As we explore the definition of plastic pollution articulated by different authors and pioneers, it becomes evident that addressing this complex issue requires interdisciplinary collaboration, innovative solutions, and collective action.

Plastic pollution definition in different languages

So, now that we understand the plastic pollution definition, it’s time to know that this problem concerns every country on this planet. Here are some languages to define this problem.

Spanish: La contaminación por plásticos

Se refiere a la acumulación de desechos de plástico en ecosistemas naturales, con efectos perjudiciales para la vida marina, la salud humana y el planeta en general.

French: La pollution plastique

Désigne l’accumulation de déchets plastiques dans les écosystèmes naturels, avec des effets néfastes sur la vie marine, la santé humaine et la planète en général.

German: Plastikverschmutzung

Bezieht sich auf die Ansammlung von Plastikabfällen in natürlichen Ökosystemen, mit schädlichen Auswirkungen auf das marine Leben, die menschliche Gesundheit und den Planeten insgesamt.

Portuguese: A poluição por plástico

Refere-se ao acúmulo de resíduos de plástico em ecossistemas naturais, com efeitos prejudiciais para a vida marinha, a saúde humana e o planeta em geral.

Indonesian: Pencemaran plastik

Mengacu pada penumpukan limbah plastik di ekosistem alami, dengan efek merugikan bagi kehidupan laut, kesehatan manusia, dan planet secara keseluruhan.

Evolution of plastic pollution definition through history

Let’s go deep into the historical context and evolution of plastic pollution definition starting from the mid-20th century when plastic emerged as a revolutionary material, offering unprecedented versatility and convenience. Initially hailed as a solution to various societal needs, plastic gained widespread use across industries, from packaging and consumer goods to construction and transportation. However, the exponential growth of plastic production post-World War II led to the unintended consequence of widespread environmental pollution. The term “plastic pollution” began to gain traction as scientists and environmentalists observed the accumulation of plastic waste in ecosystems worldwide.

Plastic pollution evolved into a pressing global environmental issue throughout the latter half of the 20th century5 and into the 21st century. The proliferation of single-use plastics, inadequate waste management6 infrastructure, and consumer behaviour exacerbated the problem. Plastic waste entered terrestrial and aquatic environments, polluting rivers, the ocean, and remote wilderness areas. As scientific research shed light on the ecological impacts of plastic pollution, including harm to marine life, biodiversity loss, and the potential risks to human health, public awareness and concern grew. Consequently, the definition of plastic pollution expanded to encompass the physical presence of plastic debris and its far-reaching environmental and societal consequences, highlighting the urgent need for comprehensive solutions to mitigate its effects7.

Plastic pollution definition in numbers

Plastic has become indispensable in our daily lives, making it hard to fathom a world without it. Between 1950 and 2017, a staggering 8.3 trillion kilograms of plastic were produced globally. Out of this amount, approximately 6.3 trillion kilograms have turned into plastic waste. Researchers predict that by 2050, we will face a more alarming scenario with a colossal 26 trillion kilograms of plastic waste. Without substantial actions to tackle this issue, the prospect of having more plastic than fish in the ocean7 is not just concerning but alarming, endangering over 800 species, including humans. 

Plastic has become indispensable in our daily lives.


In conclusion, plastic pollution definition encapsulates an urgent environmental challenge that transcends borders and disciplines. Emerging from the intersection of the Greek plastikos and the Latin pollutio, plastic pollution signifies the contamination caused by the accumulation of plastic waste in natural habitats, posing significant threats to marine life, human health, and the planet’s well-being.8 Over time, the understanding of plastic pollution has evolved, propelled by pioneers like Rachel Carson and Captain Charles Moore, whose research sheds light on its systemic impacts. As plastic production continues to soar, surpassing 8.3 trillion kilograms globally by 2017, with predictions indicating a staggering 26 trillion kilograms of plastic waste by 2050, the need for decisive action becomes increasingly evident.9

Collaborative efforts, innovative solutions, and global initiatives are imperative to mitigate the far-reaching consequences of plastic pollution, safeguarding ecosystems, biodiversity, and human livelihoods for future generations.10 Through awareness, education, and collective action, we can redefine our relationship with plastic and strive toward a cleaner, healthier planet for all.

Now is the time to act, as the ocean’s call resonates within us all. Together, let us forge a path of stewardship and preservation, honouring the interconnectedness that binds us to the sea.

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  1. Hollie Power, “Reconstructive Surgery,” Dr. Hollie Power, Last updated 2024, 
  2. Zsuzsanna Böröcz, “Collecting Plastics Is Collecting Design History,” Docomomo, Last updated 2022,
  3. Wahid Bhat, “Give Plastic, Take Gold initiative in Sadiwara village of Kashmir,” Ground Report, Last updated March 8, 2023, 
  4. Timothy Bravo, “SAC Hosts Event In Honor of Earth Day,” El Don News, Last updated April 12, 2017, 
  5. Greater Cambridge Shared Planning, “The New Museums Site Development Framework Supplementary Planning Document (SPD),” Opus Consult, Last updated 2024, 
  6. Chetan Darji, “Best Essay on World Environment Day,” Studmentor, Last updated May 24, 2023,
  7. Addiction Impact, “The Impact of Addiction on West Virginia’s Economy,” Harmony Ridge Recovery Center WV,  Last updated August 5, 2023,
  8. Xtalks, “Circular Packaging Solutions for the Food and Beverage Industry,” Cision, Last updated Jan 26, 2021,
  9. Giorgia Guglielmi, “In the next 30 years, we’ll make four times more plastic waste than we ever have,” Science Mag, Last updated July 19, 2017,
  10. Itziar Vélaz Rivas, “What do we do with the plastic?” University of Navarra / The Conversation, Last updated October 13, 2022 

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