Trends That May Affect the U.S. Plastic Bag Industry

Plastics December 10, 2015
Author: Olga Minchina
Account Manager

It goes without saying that the plastic bag market plays an important part in the U.S. economy. It should be noted that an increased consumer demand, and demand from downstream markets drove growth in revenue. Over the last five years, the overall U.S. economy has improved significantly, and as a result of greater consumer spending, the plastic bag industry saw revenue rise.

There are some negative trends, however, which may have a serious impact on the industry, namely that plastic bags are regarded as environmentally unfriendly. Because of this, a number of State governments have entertained proposals for anti-plastic bag legislation. For instance, Hawaii has a virtual state prohibition, as its four most populated counties have banned the use of plastic bags at grocery checkouts, the last one having been enforced in July 2015.

Florida, on the other hand tried to nip this type of legislation in the bud by legally preempting its cities from enacting anti-bag laws. This approach, though, comes with the pitfall of appearing out of step with the times, and can turn out to be quite dangerous for those engaged in the industry.

The new legislation of California is aimed at reducing pollution, and this State will completely ban the sale and use of plastic bags in the nearest future. The ban will take effect initially only in grocery stores and pharmacies, later expanding to a network of supermarkets and liquor stores. The State government also plans to allocate a minimum of two million dollars to compensate the losses of producers who agree to renounce the use of plastic bags in favor of paper. According to the governor of California Jerry Brown, this is a legitimate right and a move that will reduce pollution of beaches, parks and ocean waters.

Of course, many may perceive the new law negatively. This applies not only to those who have to use paper bags instead of plastic, but also to numerous employees of the sector who will run a risk of remaining without work after the new regulation has come into force. However, legislation to ban plastic bags should not cause a shock among the local population, since this State already has partial moratorium on the use of plastic bags introduced earlier.

Fortunately, there is a possible way out. One strategy is an attempt to change public perception of plastic bags by promoting the recycling of them. In this case, the attitude towards the problem may change, which will help stave off a precipitous decline in the industry, and the economy on the whole.

Canada was the main supplier of plastic bags into the U.S., with a 28% share of total U.S. imports in 2014. However, the fastest growing suppliers were Oman (+47.5% per year) and Mexico (+12.9% per year) in total imports from 2007 to 2014. Mexico strengthened its position in the U.S. import structure, from 6% in 2007 to 11% in 2014.

In 2014, the main destinations of U.S. plastic bag exports were Canada (25%) and Mexico (20%). The shares exported to Mexico (+4 percentage points) and China (+2 percentage points) increased, while the share sent to Canada illustrated negative dynamics (-4 percentage points). The shares of the other countries remained relatively stable throughout the analyzed period.

Source: U.S. Plastic Bag Market. Analysis And Forecast to 2020