The U.S. plastics industry is expected to show growth in 2021 after a pandemic-related decline in 2020.
U.S. plastics shipments are on track to grow 2.2 percent in 2021, according to Perc Pineda, chief economist with the Plastics Industry Association in Washington. Pineda spoke Sept. 21 during a webinar announcing the release of the association's annual Size & Impact Report. By comparison, shipments had declined 0.9 percent — to $394.7 billion — in 2020.
"Safety and health care should see stable demand," Pineda said. "Outdoor and home and garden demand are expected to increase, and demand for food packaging should be stable."
Pineda added that a strong holiday season could improve the industry's results for 2021.
In a news release, Plastics Industry Association President and CEO Tony Radoszewski said that the COVID-19 pandemic "has been a difficult test for the plastics industry, but it has proven our durability and resilience as the data continues to demonstrate our positive impact on America's economy."
The report contained many other data points, including a drop in the number of people employed by the U.S. plastics industry in 2020. Total industry employment for 2020 was 945,300 — down almost 6 percent vs. 2019.
The number of plastics industry locations also declined to 12,783, a drop of less than 0.5 percent vs. 2019. Pineda said these declines likely were the result of consolidations, acquisitions and the "increasing internationalization" of the industry.
Among individual states, Texas led the way with 70,500 plastics jobs, just ahead of Ohio with an almost similar amount. California was third in that category, followed by Michigan and Illinois.
Based on density, Indiana led the country with 50.6 plastics jobs per 1,000 nonfarm jobs, followed by Michigan and Wisconsin.
Ohio and California each ranked first in two plastics jobs categories. Ohio is home to almost 15 percent of plastics machinery jobs and almost 8 percent of plastics products jobs. California topped plastics wholesale trade with 11.5 percent of jobs and captive plastic production with 9 percent.
In other job categories, Texas had 20.5 percent of materials and resins jobs, and Michigan had 19.3 percent of plastic molds jobs.
Looking to 2022, Pineda said U.S. plastics shipments could see growth of 2.9 percent, although the market could be affected by a shortage of workers that's affected many other industries as well.
He added that the U.S. industry hasn't seen much tangible impact from bag bans or other challenges to single-use plastics. Bag firms actually increased their capital expenditures by more than 30 percent in 2020, Pineda said.
"If there was a negative impact from bag bans, you'd see bagmakers spending less, not more," he added. "Plastic bags are a hard item to replace, since they're better for the environment than other products."