Single-use plastic (SUP), which is considered an environmental hazard, is now redeeming itself in an uncanny way by protecting doctors and other health workers from the deadly virus.

The threat of a ban loomed large over SUP till a few months ago. However, the demand for the product, which is used in making personal protective equipment (PPE), has nearly doubled since the virus outbreak.

PPE, including goggles, face shields, masks, gloves, coveralls or gowns, head covers and shoe covers, are all made of plastic and reduce the risk of the person using them from contracting an infection.

“People think that all SUP should be banned. However, not all SUP is bad,” said Dr D.D. Kale, head, department of polymer engineering, Institute of Chemical Technology, Mumbai, who was part of the four-member committee set up last year by the government of India to define SUP.

Polypropylene, a non-woven material that can be used only once, is largely used in making PPE, said Kale.

Demand for polypropylene in India is met through domestic production and imports. Some of the major companies in the domestic market include Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL), Indian Oil Corporation Ltd, Haldia Petrochemicals Ltd, ONGC Petro Additions Ltd, and Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals Ltd. RIL, which is by far the largest producer of SUP in India, did not respond to an email sent on Friday.


The share of polypropylene in total polymer consumption was 25% in 2018. In 2018, polypropylene demand grew 5.7% to 74 million metric tonnes (MMT), according to IHS Markit, a data analytics firm. Global demand for polypropylene is forecast to grow to 120 MMT by 2030.

A shortage of PPE is forcing health workers to use alternative safety gear made of plastic water jars, plastic sheets, plastic laundry bags and garbage bags.

Till last month, most of India’s PPE needs were being met through imports, but over the past few weeks, domestic production has been increased to nearly 13,000 PPEs per month. On 6 April, India received 170,000 PPE coveralls donated by China, the health ministry said.

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