This Is Plastics: The U.S. Plastics Industry, at a Glance

Economics

The U.S. Plastics Industry, at a Glance

From aviation and automotive to construction and healthcare, plastics are a core backbone of industries across the U.S. economy.

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The plastics industry creates essential products that are critical to everyday life through an industry that is one of the largest manufacturing sectors in the U.S. economy. In fact, a thriving, robust plastics industry provides vital job growth, economic revenue and the research, development and technological innovation that will get us closer to creating a completely circular plastics economy.

The plastics industry creates economic activity and jobs

Plastics is the eighth-largest industry in the United States, supporting the manufacture of innumerous, affordable consumer goods and more advanced products for industrial applications. As a material input, plastics are a long-term, sustainable investment for companies, as the material is more durable, versatile and affordable than alternatives. Using plastic products and inputs, industries across the economy can pass along cost savings to consumers by offering quality goods at a lower price, which is particularly important with current record-high inflation.

Given the plastics industry’s massive reach, plastics are a key contributor to manufacturing in U.S. states with some of the largest economies in the world. Texas, California and Ohio—the former two outsizing whole countries as two economic powerhouses—have the top three highest concentrations of plastics industry employees; these states also have high concentrations of manufacturing activity, as most plastic products are inputs for manufactured goods.

Ultimately, the plastics industry is a significant job creator, directly and indirectly driving opportunity across the domestic economy. Altogether, the plastics industry supports the employment of over 1.55 million people in the United States. Beyond direct manufacturing, these employment figures include the industries providing plastics producers with fuel, spare parts, office supplies, accounting services, transportation and more.

Plastics reduce emissions and are infinitely recyclable

Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) have consistently found that plastic products have significant environmental advantages, including emissions reductions, over alternative materials. Research indicates plastics are less resource-intensive to produce and transport than other materials and inherently conserve costs and resources throughout their lifecycle, from manufacture to transportation to end-of-life. As plastics are also lighter and produced with less material, studies have shown that replacing plastics with alternative materials would increase environmental costs fourfold. For example, glass bottles are five times more costly to transport than plastic bottles, as plastics are lightweight without sacrificing performance. Even further, plastic bottles expend 40 percent less energy in transportation than glass bottles.

Recycling post-consumer plastics is also environmentally beneficial. Advanced recycling, which processes plastics into recycled material for new products, can reduce CO2 emissions by up to fifty percent. The plastics industry has invested billions of dollars into these innovative solutions to tackle plastic waste and further economic circularity. A 2021 study by Closed Loop Partners’ Center for the Circular Economy found that “a suite of solutions must be deployed” to address plastic waste. The study also stated that advanced recycling technologies “have the potential to expand the scope of plastics we can recycle, help preserve the value of resources in our economy, and help meet the demand for high-quality, recycled plastics,” underscoring the crucial role of advanced recycling technologies in creating a circular economy.

From the beginning to the very end of the supply chain, the plastics industry is crucial to the success of the function and growth of the U.S. economy, driving job creation, and generating revenue and sustainability. Without the continued growth and expansion of the plastics industry, and investment in the necessary recycling infrastructure to process end-products, creating a fully circular economy will remain far from our reach.

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