The U.S. plastics industry continued some strong growth trends in 2019.
From 2012 to 2019, the number of U.S. plastics jobs increased 1.6 percent, officials with the Plastics Industry Association said on a Sept. 30 Zoom conference to discuss the group’s 2020 Size & Impact Report. By comparison, all U.S. manufacturing employment grew only 1 percent during that period.
“This is an exciting time to be part of the industry,” association President and CEO Tony Radoszewski said during the broadcast. “We’re pleased to see it continue to grow.”
“Plastic is one of the most advanced materials humanity has ever created. We lead longer, healthier and better lives as a result.”
The U.S. plastics industry employed a little more than 1 million people in 2019. California had the most plastics jobs with 79,700, followed by Ohio, Texas, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
Based on concentration of jobs, Michigan was the top state in 2019, with plastics accounting for 16 of every 1,000 nonfarm jobs. It was followed by Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio and Kentucky.
U.S. plastics industry shipments were valued at $432 billion in 2019. Adding suppliers to that total raises the amount to $549.5 billion.
“The industry continues to innovate,” Chief Economist Perc Pineda said during the conference. “I don’t think we’ve fully utilized the possibilities of plastics, regardless of whether the economy grows or slows down. Companies that innovate stay ahead of the curve.”
Sustainability and use of recycled content also remain important topics for the industry. “What’s different today is that now we’re seeing demand pushed by brand owners who are committed to using recycled content in their products,” Radoszewski said.
Based on value of shipments, plastic products ranked as the eighth-largest industry in the U.S. in 2019. Association officials said that abundant natural gas, gas liquid feedstocks and a growing economy have boosted the plastics industry in recent years. They added that in 2019, almost 80 percent of U.S. plastics products were used in some sort of personal consumption, such as toys, eating utensils, detergent bottles, motor vehicles and refrigerators.
Categories tracked by the government showed the U.S. with almost 16,000 plastics-producing sites in 2019. Two-thirds of those sites were involved with making plastic products.
Based on top states in individual categories, Ohio had almost 15 percent of U.S. plastics machinery jobs in 2019 and 8 percent of plastic products jobs. California led the way with just over 12 percent of forms and shapes jobs and 9 percent of captive products jobs.
Michigan was the top state for plastics molds jobs, with a share of just over 21 percent. Texas was the top state for plastic materials and resins jobs, with just over 19 percent.
The report also listed numerous challenges facing the U.S. plastics industry in 2020 and 2021.
“Growth in the plastics industry is currently facing serious challenges as the global economy slows due to the coronavirus pandemic,” officials said. The market “is expected to sustain uneven growth, as aggregate demand shocks seem to have had different impacts on plastics end markets."
The uncertainty of recovery from the economic disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored weaknesses in durable goods demand such as autos and light trucks, according to the report.
“Tailwinds will likely come from sustained manufacturing of consumer essentials such as food and packaging, personal and health care, and electronics — all of which use plastics materials extensively,” officials said.
In labor trends, the report said that, because of labor shortages, all manufacturing facilities, including those involved with plastics, are expected to increase their investments in labor-saving equipment and technology. Officials added that uncertainty over the pace of economic recovery will limit capital expenditure in the near term.
Real plastics industry shipments are expected to decrease in 2020 and recover at rates that depend on different scenarios. Officials said that “the most optimistic outcome” would be that real plastics shipments bounce back in 2020 and then revert back to the 2.3 percent annual growth observed since 2010.
Among individual end markets, the report said that plastics for consumer essentials — food packaging, personal, and health care — will continue to see healthy demand. Officials added that as interest rates and mortgage rates have decreased, construction will recover and will continue to boost plastics industry shipments.