Plastics Outlook | Trade and Industry Development

Plastics Outlook

Mar 31, 2004 | By: Don Duncan

Founded in 1937, The Society of the Plastics Industry, Inc., (SPI), is the trade association representing one of the largest manufacturing industries in the United States. SPI''s members represent the entire plastics industry supply chain, including processors, machinery and equipment manufacturers and raw materials suppliers.
Plastics play an indispensable role in a wide variety of markets, ranging from packaging and building/construction to transportation; consumer and institutional products; furniture and furnishings; electrical/electronic components; adhesives, inks and coatings and others.

Industry Size

In 2002, the U.S. plastics industry employed more than 1.4 million workers nationwide. Another 772,400 persons were employed by upstream industries that supplied the plastics industry, which brought the employment impact to nearly 2.2 million – about 2 percent of the U.S. workforce.
The nearly 20,000 plastics industry establishments operating in 2002 generated approximately $310 billion in shipments. Another $83.6 billion was generated by upstream, supplying industries, bringing the total annual shipments to nearly $393 billion.


Rate of Growth

Employment in the plastics manufacturing industry grew 2.2 percent per year between 1980 and 2001. The total of plastics manufacturing and plastics wholesale trade grew slightly faster, at 2.3 percent per year.

Real value added in the Plastics Manufacturing Industry grew 3.7 percent per year from 1980 to 2001. The value of shipments by this industry also grew 3.3 percent per year.

The comparative growth rates suggest that productivity in Plastics Manufacturing grew about 1.5 percent per year from 1980 to 2001. This is similar to the productivity growth rate achieved by manufacturing as a whole.

Plastics industry growth rates slowed significantly in terms of shipments, employment and establishments toward the end of the 1990s and into 2002. This slowdown mirrors what happened to the rest of manufacturing as a result of various economic factors.

Over the past 25 years, plastics industry employment, real shipments and real value added grew faster than manufacturing as a whole.



While every state has a plastics industry presence, California claims nearly 10 percent of all plastics industry jobs, with 137.8 million workers in 2002. Ohio, Michigan, Texas and Illinois followed, with the top ten states accounting for some 59 percent of the nation’s plastics industry jobs. Indiana had the greatest concentration of plastics industry personnel, followed by Michigan and Ohio.


A look at industry sectors shows:

  • The plastics materials and resins industry concentrated on the Gulf Coast, which has abundant raw materials and excellent petrochemical infrastructure. Texas tops the list in employment for this sector.

  • Most plastics products do not ship well as they are often hollow and are shaped irregularly. Thus they do not pack well, and can be expensive to ship long distances. Also, manufacturers prefer to have their processors located nearby. As a result, plastics processing tends to be located near manufacturing operations, such as automobile and appliance assembly plants. The populous state of California leads the nation in employment here.

  • The plastics machinery sector is another concentrated in the manufacturing belt, where many plastics processors are located. Ohio leads the United States in employment for plastics machinery.

  • Plastics wholesale trade is scattered around the country, reflecting the fact that wholesalers serve a wide range of customers.

  • Captive plastics product operations are found at manufacturing sites, such as auto and milk-processing plants that are large enough to produce their own plastics products or require kinds of plastics products that are expensive to transport.


The Society of Plastics Industry, Inc.

The mission of SPI is to be a world class trade association representing the entire plastics industry in a way that promotes the development of the plastics industry and enhances the public'’s understanding of its contributions while meeting the needs of society and providing value to its members.

In addition to a host of member programs and services, SPI also sponsors two major trade shows, NPE and Plastics USA, providing a showcase for the industry and its products and an unparalleled forum for industry interaction. Through grassroots efforts such as its online Political Action Center (, SPI seeks to represent and serve as the voice of the plastics industry and to influence public policy on issues of concern to the industry.

Headquartered in Washington, D.C., SPI also operates regional offices in the Northeast, the Midwest, South and West. SPI''s regions and state chapters serve member needs on a localized basis.

For more information about SPI’s programs and events, link to the Web at


About the Author