The U.S. plastics industry is expected to continue to grow in 2022 as it recovers from a pandemic-related decline in 2020.
U.S. plastics shipments are on track to grow 1.8 percent in 2022, according to Perc Pineda, chief economist with the Plastics Industry Association in Washington. Pineda spoke Sept. 14 during a webinar announcing the release of the association's annual Size & Impact Report. Shipments grew 1.2 percent to $468 billion in 2021 after declining 0.9 percent in 2020.
The U.S. plastics industry also climbed from the country's eighth-largest industry in 2020 to No. 6 on that list in 2021, based on the value of shipments.
"That growth happened because plastics save energy, resources and lives," Matt Seaholm, president and CEO of the association, said during the webinar. "We're very proud of that. This is the kind of growth we like to see."
The report contained many other data points, including an increase in the number of people employed by the U.S. plastics industry. Total industry employment for 2020 was 999,100 — up more than 3 percent vs. 2020.
"We continue to face a labor shortage, but the U.S. plastics industry was able to add workers in 2021," Pineda said.
The number of plastics industry locations also increased to 12,662, a rise of 0.2 percent vs. 2020. Processing facilities accounted for about 83 percent of that total.
Among individual states, Ohio led the way with 75,100 plastics jobs, ahead of California and Texas, which each employed 73,100. Those were followed by Michigan (64,300) and Illinois (52,700). The next five states on the plastics jobs list were Pennsylvania, Indiana, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Georgia.
Based on density, Indiana led the country with 16.3 plastics jobs per 1,000 nonfarm jobs, followed by Wisconsin with 15.4 and Michigan narrowly behind at 15.3.
Ohio ranked first in two plastics jobs categories. The Buckeye State is home to 14.5 percent of plastics machinery jobs and 8 percent of plastics products jobs. California also topped two jobs areas: Plastics wholesale trade with 11.3 percent and captive plastic production with almost 9 percent.
In other job categories, Texas had 20.4 percent of materials and resins jobs, and Michigan had 19.8 percent of plastic mold making jobs.
Looking to 2023, Pineda said U.S. plastics shipments growth is likely to slow to 1.2 percent because of "strong economic headwinds."
"The risk of a U.S. recession is high and shouldn't be dismissed," he added.
Seaholm also commented on sustainability trends, saying that "we like to say that we love plastic, but we hate plastic waste" and that the industry's growth "necessitates that end-of-life work is done."
"We have to recycle more plastic and we need policies to reduce plastic waste," he said.
The report also looked at the plastic products content of final demand by industry. That content was measured in cents per dollar of final demand.
Based on that metric, soft drinks and ice led the way with 12.1 cents of plastics content per dollar of final demand. Snack foods were a close second at 11 cents per dollar. Toilet preparations came in third at 8 cents, with surgical and medical instruments in fourth place at 5.9 cents.