Plastics in the Pandemic
Packaging, Risk and COVID-19 in Urban Middle-Class India
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.
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