Plastics in the Pandemic

Packaging, Risk and COVID-19 in Urban Middle-Class India

  • Gauri Pathak Aarhus University
Keywords: COVID-19, risk, hygiene, pollution, plastics, India


Anti-plastic discourses have been gaining momentum in the last two decades, increasingly prompting plastic control policies and plastic avoidant behaviour. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has brought a profusion of single-use plastics and plastic packaging. What can this change tell us about shifts in subjective experiences of risk in an environment of hypervigilance? The case of India reveals that the pandemic has shifted attention among the middle class from the uncertain, future risks of plastic toxicity toward the more immediate risks brought by COVID-19. It also illuminates how plastics are implicated in the logics of ritual pollution that inform frameworks of secular hygiene. For middle-class consumers, plastics function as a boundary between the outer world of the Other and the inner world of the Self, and the use of plastic packaging becomes a token gesture that provides a sense of protection in the face of a heightened awareness of vulnerability.

Author Biography

Gauri Pathak, Aarhus University

GAURI PATHAK is a medical anthropologist and an Associate Professor at the Department of Global Studies, Aarhus University, Denmark. Her research focuses on health–environment systems and interactions between the body and its environment, consumption practices and processes of globalisation in South Asia, especially urban India. Her current project, for which she has received the Carlsberg Young Researcher Fellowship, revolves around ethnographic investigations of human–plastic entanglements in South and South East Asia. Email:


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