How flexible packaging saved human life during Covid-19 in India


When Covid-19 spread all over the world in the early days of 2020 but in India its impact was evidenced on 30th January, when the first case was observed in India. On 22 March, a 14-hour voluntary public curfew declared by the prime minister of India. It was followed by mandatory lockdowns in COVID-19 hotspots and all major cities (Khushbu et al., 2020). But on 24 March, the prime minister again ordered a nationwide lockdown for more than 21 days, affecting almost 1.3 billion people of India.

Unforeseen announcement of countrywide lockdown spawns many glitches in the society and for prevailing people like bachelors, daily wage workers, working women in metros, students and aspirants for various examinations. It was a very decisive time for those people, who confided in outsourced food, domestic help and local food vendors. The inter-state mass movement of unwaged or idle people from metro cities of India to their villages astonished the local authorities. The main reason for this movement was due to the uncertainty of jobs due to covid-19 and survival of the drastic situation, which was not foreseen. Millions of workers, daily wages labourers, MSME labourers and those working in the unorganised sector started to travel to their respective native place at the distance of at least 100-2000 km approximately. When mass started migration along with their family at that time most of them were empty-handed and started travelling without food and water.

All the hotels, restaurants, local vendors and roadside hotels were closed due to lockdown in India. It was only one solution to feed the hungry and thirsty people to provide them with the packed food and water pouches. State-of-the-art flexible packaging, which was contemplated as a hazard for environment and society (Ana et al., 2021), came in front to help the society, migrant labours, pregnant women, senior citizens and children with its versatility of uses. Huge variety of fast-moving consumer goods, biscuits, ready to cook food and water or juice bottles were available at that critical time to save the life of migrating people. All packaging industries ensured to work in this pandemic situation to provide uninterrupted supply to hungry and thirsty people (Ana et al., 2021). When trains commenced operating to send back migrants to their respective places, nothing was available to feed the crowd of millions. But at that critical phase of human life, flexible packaging played a magnificent role to provide them safe food and drinking water until they reached safely their destinations in a hot and sunny climate. During Covid-19, India also witnessed some of the bitter truth, when people were migrated by bicycle, bullock carts and by walk even barefoot to reach their destinations in the extremely dry and temperature about 40-450C. Sunstroke in those days was inviting life-threatening risk to hungry and thirsty migrants. In that situation, many NGOs and self- help groups came forward to feed these migrants by distributing food and water packed in plastic flexible packaging for the survival of life. India cannot forget the contribution of all those warriors to safeguard many lives.

In metro cities, an ample variety of ready to cook and packed food products was easily available to satisfy the needs of working professionals, students and dependents during the lockdown. Multilayer packaging converters and FMCG companies also introduced many new products immediately after spreading of the virus in a pandemic situation to safeguard the people. A range of personal hygiene products like sanitizer, cleaning items, one-time use hand sanitizer pouch and PPEs, etc were also introduced in the market to facilitate common people. By this way, multilayer flexible packaging played a key role to save human life without deviation in quality of food and hygiene products during the lockdown.

In the packaging industry, plastics are very common to use (Yuvraj et al., 2017, 2018) but during Covid-19, many of producers, FMCG companies and converters who initially used other materials prefer plastic now for apparent health care safety due to plastics being much safer, more affordable and long-lasting. After analysing production and sales data of various companies of FMCG and multilayer packaging converters, we found that in the first quarter of the financial year they end-up with record sales in Covid-19 situation. One of the leading and premium biscuit companies announced 80-90% growth in sales and also one of leading flexible packaging companies based at Noida also registered 9% growth in sale of films and flexible packaging materials (The Economics Time, The Hindu, 2020). This growth was registered when industries were working as per the guideline’s issued by the government and necessary precautions were taken with limited manpower committed to uninterrupted supply of food and water to millions of needed Indian citizens.

However, the use of plastic in packaging is considered as the main cause of increasing solid waste, choking of sewage, recycling issues and left out garbage in public and private places (Lal Chand Malav et al., 2020). Many government organizations and NGOs are strongly opposing the use of plastic in multilayer packaging (Zenon Tartakowski, 2010). But technically it is not feasible to replace them due to excellent mechanical and barrier properties of different family polymers in multilayer packaging. Multilayer flexible packaging materials like PET, BOPP, PVC and PE are extensively used to pack the food products for achieving the targeted shelf life.

But extensive use of multilayer flexible packaging materials during the lockdown increased the solid waste quantity. In India collection, segregation and recycling is already a major challenge for authorities and this increased volume of plastic waste interrupts the solid waste management system. A tremendous increase in the consumption of packaging materials in food and hygienic products proved that without multilayer packaging, it was difficult to face the challenge of lockdown to feed the millions of people in India. Author also recommends that it is the high time to develop the basic infra-structure to recycle and reuse the packaging materials.

In conclusion, it is clearly evident that packaging saves human life during lockdown and helps them to stand again with fullest of their energy to fight against the pandemic situation due to Covid-19.
Abbreviation:  FMCG- Fast Moving Consumer Goods, MSME- Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, NGO- Non-Governmental Organization, PET- Poly Ethylene terephthalate, BOPP- Bi-Oriented Polypropylene, PVC- Poly Vinyl Chloride, PE- Polyethylene

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Dr.Anurag Kulshreshta is with the Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee, Saharanpur Campus

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