Construction is sensitive to government moves - specifically public works spending and interest rates. Since construction consumes one-fifth of all plastics used in the United States, second only to packaging, the plastics industry will be watching the Federal Reserve Board and Congress - and local governments - closely this year.
Congress, now controlled by Republicans, could give signals on its stance on environmental issues, including waste water and drinking water improvements, both major users of PVC pipe.
For the past two years, controversial issues such as wetlands, unfunded mandates on state and local government and risk assessment for regulations killed congressional action to reauthorize the Clean Water Act, according to the National Utility Contractors Association based in Arlington, Va.
The plastics picture is clearer along the nation's highways. High density polyethylene pipe should continue to grow in the highway drainage pipe market, where it competes against concrete.
In residential use, all eyes will focus on the largest construction trade show, the Builders' Show, held Jan. 27-30 in Houston, where the National Association of Home Builders issues its annual forecasts.
The economic driver for plastics substitution for traditional materials took a hit in 1994, when wood prices began to decline and prices for plastic resins increased.
But those wood prices had been at record highs. And plastics was not alone - the prices of other traditional building materials, such as steel and concrete, also jumped in 1994.
This year, you may have to check the produce section of your local grocer for construction material prices.
Murchomes Inc. of Bellingham, Wash., announced in November that it sold two duplex townhouses to Mexico made from a ``veggie plastic'' developed in Canada.
The material, called Accuflex, made of vegetable oil and gypsum, is installed over a steel skeleton.