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Plastics Sector Jumps from Eighth to Sixth Largest US Industry

Further growth is forecast this year and next, but at a smaller pace than in 2021.

Norbert Sparrow

September 15, 2022

3 Min Read
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Image courtesy of Alamy/Wavebreakmedia Ltd FUS1503-2

Accounting for nearly one million jobs and $468 billion in shipments in 2021, the US plastics industry moved up in ranking from the eighth to sixth largest industry in the country, according to the Plastics Industry Association (PLASTICS). If you include captive plastic products — such as automotive assembly or milk bottling plants — and the associated supply chain, the size of the industry balloons to just over $600 billion. These and many, many more facts and figures have just been published by PLASTICS in the 2022 Size and Impact report. Association CEO Matt Seaholm and Chief Economist Perc Pineda held an online press briefing on Sept. 14 to highlight some takeaways from the report.

Seaholm noted that he was “immensely proud” of the plastics sector moving up from the eighth to sixth largest industry in the United States. Moreover, the plastics industry outperformed manufacturing as a whole in many categories. For example, the number of employees grew 3.2% in the plastics industry versus 1.5% in manufacturing from 2020 to 2021. Over the last 24 years, plastics industry employment, shipments, and added value have fared better than manufacturing overall, according to PLASTICS.

The outlook for the plastics industry in the next couple of years is more muted, according to Pineda, who predicts that there will be growth this year and next, but at a lower rate than in 2021. Performance of the plastics industry is highly vulnerable to the larger economy’s manufacturing outlook in terms of durable goods such as automotive, non-durable goods, and construction manufacturing entities, said Pineda. Shifts in demand in these sectors feed into the demand for plastics, he added. It’s also worth noting that almost 90% of plastic-containing products end up in personal consumption by households. Economic headwinds and inflationary pressure affecting those households will have an obvious impact on the plastics industry. And the possibility of a full-blown recession remains high and cannot be dismissed, said Pineda. “My sense is for plastics demand to remain stable, but shift to a lower gear,” he summarized during the briefing.

Other takeaways from the briefing:

  • Ohio, Texas, and California were the top three states in number of plastics employees in 2021. In terms of plastics industry employment intensity, or concentration, which is measured by the percentage of plastics industry workers per 1,000 non-farm jobs, Indiana ranked first, followed closely by Wisconsin, said Pineda.

  • Based on data available at the time of writing the report, Pineda anticipates that growth in plastics manufacturing shipments, adjusted for inflation, will slow to 1.8% this year and 1.2% next year, returning to 2.8% by 2024.

  • Pineda also estimates that employment growth in the plastics industry will grow by only 0.8% this year and decrease by 0.1% next year with another 0.5% decrease forecast for 2024.

  • Fun fact: Snack foods have 11.3 cents worth of plastic content per dollar value. Personal care products have nine cents, and mattresses, blinds, and shades have 16.7 cents.

For more information on the 2022 Size and Impact report, go to the PLASTICS website. It is available free of charge to association members.

About the Author(s)

Norbert Sparrow

Editor in chief of PlasticsToday since 2015, Norbert Sparrow has more than 30 years of editorial experience in business-to-business media. He studied journalism at the Centre Universitaire d'Etudes du Journalisme in Strasbourg, France, where he earned a master's degree.


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