USDA Report Illustrates the Strength of the Bioeconomy

Source: By Rebecca Chillrud, EESI • Posted: Tuesday, October 11, 2016

“America has an appetite for everyday products—including plastic bottles, textiles, cleaning supplies, and more—made from renewable sources, and that demand is fueling millions of jobs, bringing manufacturing back to our rural communities, and reducing our nation’s carbon footprint.”

That’s Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s take on the important impacts of the bioeconomy. On October 3, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a report quantifying the impact that biobased products have had on the nation’s economy. The report, called the “Economic Impact Analysis of the U.S. Biobased Products Industry,” focuses on 2014 data and updates last year’s 2013 report, which was the first of its kind. The main takeaways? In 2014, the industry was responsible for contributing $393 billion to the economy and providing 4.2 million jobs.

Biobased Products

Fossil fuels are being replaced with lower-carbon biobased options in a wide variety of products. The most obvious example for many consumers is ethanol, which currently makes up around ten percent of the U.S. fuel supply. However, the USDA definition of “biobased products” for this report excludes fuels, food, or feed. The products included in the report are displacing petroleum primarily by replacing petroleum-based materials, such as Styrofoam.

More than 20,000 biobased products can be found in the USDA’s BioPreferred Program online catalog, and the report states that “40,000 would be a conservative estimate of the total number of existing biobased products.” Of those, nearly 3,000 can be labeled as USDA certified Biobased Products. Products in the catalog include cleaning supplies, packaging material, carpets, construction materials, office supplies, and toiletries.

The report chose seven sectors “to represent the biobased products industry’s contribution to the U.S. economy”—agriculture and forestry, biorefining, biobased chemicals, enzymes, bioplastic bottles and packaging, forest products, and textiles. Energy, livestock, food, feed, and pharmaceuticals were excluded from the report.

The Bioeconomy Is Growing Stronger

The 2014 analysis showed a contribution of $393 billion and 4.2 million jobs—again, not including biofuels. These numbers reflect a growth of $24 billion and 220,000 jobs from the previous year. “This updated analysis shows that the sector is not just holding strong, but growing,” said Vilsack. “As this sector is strengthening, so is the economy in rural America, where this year the unemployment rate dropped below six percent for the first time since 2007.”

The bioeconomy also provides a “jobs multiplier” of 2.76, meaning that for every direct job created because of the biobased products industry, an additional 1.76 jobs are created in related industries. This multiplier is up from 2.64 in the previous report.

Author: Rebecca Chillrud

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