Plastics are moldable, chemically fabricated materials produced mostly from fossil fuels, such as oil, coal, or natural gas. The word plastic is derived from the Greek plastikos, meaning "to mold," and the Latin plasticus, meaning "capable of molding." Leo Baekeland created the first commercially successful thermosetting synthetic resin in 1909. More than 50 families of plastics have since been produced.
All plastics can be divided into either thermoplastics or thermosetting plastics. The difference is the way in which they respond to heat. Thermoplastics can be repeatedly softened by heat and hardened by cooling. Thermosetting plastics harden permanently after being heated once.
Prices - Plastics prices in 2007 finally showed weakness after four consecutive years of strong to moderate gains. Specifically, the average monthly producer price index (1982=100) of plastic resins and materials in the U.S. in 2007 fell -1.1% yr/yr to 196.2, down from last year's record high of 198.4. The average monthly producer price index of thermoplastic resins in the U.S. in 2007 fell -2.4% yr/yr to 195.6, down from last year's record high of 200.4. The average monthly producer price index of styrene plastic materials (also a thermoplastic) in the U.S. in 2003 (latest available data) rose +21.2% to 115.7 from the 25-year low of 95.5 posted in 2002. The average monthly producer price index of thermosetting resins in the U.S. in 2007, however, bucked the trend by rising +4.3% yr/yr to a new record high of 211.6.
Supply - Total U.S. plastics production in 2005 (latest data available) fell by -2.9% yr/yr to 110.606 billion pounds, down from the 2004 record high of 113.940 billion pounds. U.S. plastics production has more than doubled in the past two decades. By sector, the thermoplastics sector is by far the largest, with 2005 production falling -2.9% yr/yr to 89.595 billion pounds and accounting for 81% of total U.S. plastic production. Production in the thermosetting plastic sector (polyester unsaturated, phenolic, and epoxy) rose +0.4% yr/yr in 2005 to 8.186 billion pounds and accounted for 7% of total U.S. plastics production. The category of "other plastics" fell by -4.8% to 12.825 billion pounds and accounted for 12% of total U.S. plastics production.
Demand - The breakdown by market for the usage of plastic resins shows that the largest single consumption category is "Packaging" with 25.144 billion pounds of usage in 2005 (latest data available), accounting for 30% of total U.S. consumption. After packaging, the largest categories are "Consumer and Industrial" (21% of U.S. consumption), and "Building and Construction" (19% of U.S. consumption).
Trade - U.S. exports of plastics in 2005 (latest data available) fell -1.1% yr/yr to 9.790 billion pounds, but still not far below the record high of 10.048 billion pounds seen in 2002. U.S. exports accounted for 12% of U.S. supply disappearance in 2005.