Across the U.S., the plant-based products industry is working to guide the evolving global economy toward greater circularity and more sustainable consumer products through the greater use of renewable, plant-based materials. These materials provide numerous trade and economic benefits to rural America from the well-paying jobs associated with their manufacturing to providing new domestic and international markets for U.S. agricultural commodities. Additionally, plant-based materials meet growing consumer demand for more sustainable products while providing numerous environmental benefits, particularly those related to tackling the municipal waste crisis, fighting climate change, as well as improving soil health and water quality.
From the production of renewable agricultural feedstocks to the many circular end-of-life options for the materials themselves, the plant-based products industry is bringing the circular economy closer to reality. Looking more specifically at economic benefits, the infographic below describes a few metrics that show how plant-based products are driving economic growth, particularly in rural areas:
Growing the Feedstock
American agriculture has the capacity to grow a wide array of potential feedstock crops required to sustain a robust plant-based materials industry without impacting domestic food supply or hampering America’s trading role as the world’s breadbasket. According to the USDA Economic Research Service, farming directly employs 2.6 million Americans and exports over 20 percent of production. The plant-based products industry represents a wide range of uses and applications for American crops that can both increase and maintain existing demand for Americancommodities and value-added products both domestic and abroad.
Manufacturing of Plant-Based Materials
The emergence or expansion of plant-based product manufacturing facilities immediately stimulates local economies and connects these communities to the global supply chain through the innovative materials created at these facilities. In fact, the plant-based products industry contributes over $57 billion to the U.S. economy through exports and supports another 550,000 global trade-related jobs. In terms of direct domestic employment, currently the U.S. biorefining, biobased chemicals, and biobased plastic bottles and packaging industries employ over 15,000 people. As noted in the infographic, these are well-paying, skilled jobs. As consumer demand for more sustainable alternatives to traditional materials and packaging continues to increase around the world, the expansion of plant-based materials manufacturing to meet this demand would create more economic opportunities for producers and increase international competitiveness of U.S. bioeconomy sector moving forward.
End of Life and Conversion of Plant-Based Materials into Manufacturing Feedstock
Plant-based alternatives offer a wide suite of circular end-of-life management options, ranging from recyclability to compostability, with each option possessing its own opportunity for job creation. Composting is a particularly advantageous end-of-life option for many plant-based materials. The Institute for Local Self Reliance has estimated that for every 1 million tons of organic material composted, and its subsequent use, almost 1,400 new full-time jobs could potentially be supported.
America is not alone in its desire to seek out better waste management options. A thriving domestic plant-based materials industry provides countries around the world with opportunities to import these critical materials for transitioning to a better waste management future.
Growing a robust plant-based products industry presents a chance to create economic opportunity throughout America. Not only in the immediate term, but in the long term as the U.S. industry seeks out new ways to compete more effectively in a rapidly-evolving international market of advanced materials. From preserving the livelihoods of the farmers who grow agricultural feedstocks, supporting climate changes solutions, to the manufacturing of the materials themselves and the practical benefits of a wide range of end-of-life options, plant-based materials contribute positively to the shift towards a more circular global economy.
Jessica Bowman serves as the Plant Based Products Council’s (PBPC) Executive Director. In her position, she leads PBPC’s efforts in advocating for using more renewable, plant-based materials and ensuring they become part of the circular bioeconomy.
Jessica joins PBPC from the American Chemistry Council, where she served as Executive Director of the FluoroCouncil, and previously as Senior Director of Environmental Affairs for the Airports Council International – North America. She holds a J.D. with a concentration in environmental law from University of Maryland School of Law and a B.S. in GeoEnvironmental Engineering from Penn State University.
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