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Polythene vs. Polyethylene — What's the Difference?

By Tayyaba Rehman — Updated on October 3, 2023
Polythene" and "polyethylene" both refer to the same synthetic resin derived from ethylene; "polythene" is primarily a British term, while "polyethylene" is the scientific term and widely used in the U.S.
Polythene vs. Polyethylene — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Polythene and Polyethylene


Key Differences

"Polythene" and "polyethylene" are terms that refer to the same kind of plastic material, which is a widely used synthetic resin derived from the polymerization of ethylene. However, these terms have different origins and usage patterns. "Polythene" is predominantly a British term. It's a colloquial expression, commonly used in everyday language, especially in the United Kingdom.
On the other hand, "polyethylene" is the scientifically recognized name for the compound. It is the term you'd likely come across in academic articles, industry standards, or in scientific contexts. Moreover, in American English, "polyethylene" is the more commonly used term, even in everyday parlance.
Despite the difference in naming conventions, both "polythene" and "polyethylene" refer to the same chemical substance. This plastic material is versatile and can be found in a range of products, from plastic bags to bottles, toys, and even some industrial applications.
To sum it up, while "polythene" might sound more familiar to a person from the UK and used in more casual settings, "polyethylene" is the official and internationally recognized term for this widely used plastic material.

Comparison Chart

Origin of Usage

British term.
Scientific term.

Common Usage

Predominantly in the UK in everyday language.
Widely used in the U.S. and in scientific contexts globally.


More casual.
More formal and scientific.


Synthetic resin derived from ethylene.
Synthetic resin derived from ethylene.


PE, polythene.

Compare with Definitions


A flexible and moldable polymer.
The polythene toys were durable and safe for children.


A thermoplastic polymer derived from ethylene.
The polyethylene bottle was both strong and recyclable.


A type of plastic made by polymerizing ethylene.
The polythene bag was lightweight and transparent.


A substance used in both high-density and low-density forms.
The polyethylene foam provided excellent cushioning.


A synthetic resin used in various applications.
The polythene sheet protected the furniture from paint.


A widely used plastic in various industries.
Polyethylene tubing was utilized in the medical field.


A common material in packaging.
The polythene wrapper crinkled as he opened the box.


A compound with the formula (C2H4)n.
The structure of polyethylene includes long chains of carbon and hydrogen.


A material resistant to moisture and chemicals.
The polythene container kept the contents dry during the rain.


A plastic known for its flexibility and durability.
The polyethylene kayak resisted dents and scratches.


Variant of polyethylene.


Polyethylene or polythene (abbreviated PE; IUPAC name polyethene or poly(methylene)) is the most common plastic in use today. It is a polymer, primarily used for packaging (plastic bags, plastic films, geomembranes and containers including bottles, etc.).


A light thermoplastic used in packaging etc.; polyethylene.


A polymerized thermoplastic ethylene resin, used especially for containers, kitchenware, and tubing, or in the form of films and sheets for packaging.


A lightweight thermoplastic; used especially in packaging and insulation


(organic compound) A polymer consisting of many ethylene monomers bonded together; used for kitchenware, containers etc.


A lightweight thermoplastic; used especially in packaging and insulation

Common Curiosities

Are polythene and polyethylene the same thing?

Yes, both terms refer to the same synthetic resin derived from ethylene.

Is polythene biodegradable?

No, both polythene and polyethylene are resistant to natural degradation.

Can the terms be used interchangeably?

Yes, though "polyethylene" is more recognized in scientific contexts.

How is polyethylene produced?

Polyethylene is produced through the polymerization of ethylene.

Can polyethylene be recycled?

Yes, polyethylene, like polythene, is recyclable under proper conditions.

Why are there two different terms?

"Polythene" is primarily a British term, while "polyethylene" is the scientific term and more commonly used in the U.S.

Where is polythene commonly used?

Polythene is used in products like bags, bottles, and toys.

Are there different types of polyethylene?

Yes, including high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and low-density polyethylene (LDPE).

Why is polyethylene popular in manufacturing?

Its versatility, durability, and cost-effectiveness make it popular.

What are the health concerns related to polyethylene?

When used appropriately, polyethylene is considered safe, but burning it can release toxic fumes.

Are there environmental concerns related to polyethylene?

Yes, due to its resistance to degradation, discarded polyethylene can contribute to environmental pollution.

Are there alternatives to polyethylene in packaging?

Yes, alternatives include bioplastics and other sustainable materials.

How long has polyethylene been in use?

Polyethylene was first synthesized in the 1930s.

Can polythene be used in high-temperature applications?

Generally, polythene/polyethylene has a limited temperature resistance.

Which term is more commonly used in industry standards?

"Polyethylene" is more commonly used in industry standards.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Tayyaba Rehman
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.

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