By Jeff Vedders

Plastics, or miscellaneous plastics products as it’s formally known, is one of our most requested industry targets.  No wonder.  According to a recent study by The Society of the Plastics Industry, Inc. (SPI), in terms of shipments, miscellaneous plastics products is the fourth largest manufacturing industry in the United States after motor vehicles and equipment, electronic components and accessories, and petroleum refining.  In fact, the plastics industry is actually larger, since many automotive and electronics components utilize plastics.  SPI’s most recent statistics claim nearly 21,000 businesses employing 2.4 million people, about 2 percent of the entire workforce.  California has the most businesses, with 2,368.  The next closest state is Michigan, with 1,334 businesses.

While plastics companies can locate anywhere, they require close geographic proximity to their markets, dependable energy, and a low-cost, skilled and dependable workforce.  Notable plastics companies include Crown Holdings, Inc., GE Plastics, Cooper Tire & Rubber Company, Ball Corporation, and Sealed Air Corporation.

Although the plastics industry has not been immune to the overall U.S. manufacturing downturn, some sectors continue to perform well.  Plastics packaging, particularly in the food and beverage sector, is outpacing other materials such as glass, metal, and paper.  In fact, in the food industry, plastics is growing at a rate more than twice that of metal, while in the beverage industry the growth rate of plastics is 6 percent annually, while metal and glass are growing at 1 percent.  The market for plastics materials and resins in the U.S. is expected to grow 16.5% between 2002 and 2006, reaching a value of $57.7 billion in 2006.  Much of the sales increase over the forecast period is expected to result from the development of specialty materials, particularly in the automotive and packaging industries.  Aside from packaging, another large plastics sector is the construction industry.  Large residential housing has slowed somewhat, as have road construction projects, but there is still activity in the small residential housing market, which uses more vinyl.

A look at recent new and expanded facility announcement activity between 1999 and 2000 demonstrates that while not being anywhere near 2000 levels, the industry does appear to have leveled off.  In fact there was an increase in expansion activity between 2001 and 2002.  This may suggest that excess capacity issues have been resolved within the industry.


º    “Growth Forecast for All Packaging Resins in 2003.”  Packaging Strategies v 21, n 2, p s4, Jan 31, 2003

º    “Industry proves adaptable to change in manufacturing downturn plastics: plastics have the unique capability to be manufactured to meet very specific functional needs for consumers.”  Clint Johnson, Plants Sites & Parks v 29, n 4, p 74 (7), September 2002.

º    The Society of the Plastics Industry, Inc. Washington, D.C.,

º    “Plastics Materials and Resins in the USA.”  June 2002.  Euromonitor.

º    Conway Data Scoreboard and Whittaker Associates, Inc.