US & Global Economic Impact Analysis and Forecasts

Freedonia analysts and economists are sharing their insights on how major events are impacting different parts of the US and global economies.

Closed Loop Manufacturing vs. “Downcycling”…How Should We Best Use Recycled Materials?

Closed loop manufacturing is often prioritized and seen as the gold standard in sustainability. This process bring waste back into where it came from so that waste products return to make the product again and ultimately nothing (or almost nothing) is really wasted. However, there are limits to recyclability without losing performance – strength, flexibility, etc.

Perhaps recycled content has more environmental impact if used in a new way. For instance, recycled plastic bottles, bags, and film can also be made into things like pipe, decking, fencing, furniture, and fleece; and recycled glass containers can be used in the cement manufacturing process and to make countertops. This is often called “downcycling” as the materials are used to make something else rather than to make more of what it was. The process had gotten a bit of a bad rap as closing the loop held our fascination…but is that correct?

Is there greater impact on protecting limited resources and reducing greenhouse gas emissions if recycled content (plastic and otherwise) is used to “green up” a long-lived product like construction materials instead of in something that has a limited lifespan and can be made more sustainable in other ways (e.g., packaging)?

This is the argument in policy circles as they consider recycled content mandates or extended producer responsibility (EPR) programs. If there is a finite amount of PCR (post-consumer recycled content) – and there is – what is the best use of it?

The goal of both is ultimately to incentivize bringing more waste into recycling streams so that more materials are available for reuse and kept out of landfills. But sustainability is multilayers…reduce what you can…reuse what can’t be reduced…recycle what can’t be reduced or reused.

In the end, this might be why there is an increasing trend toward EPR. These programs allow for more flexibility in making sure the recycled content use is optimized and companies are still incentivized to reduce material use overall as well.

Freedonia analysts continue to examine ways various industries are maximizing their resources and minimizing their waste, while keeping in mind current limitations on available recycled content and trends in municipal and private waste management along with consumer participation.  

For more information and discussion of opportunities, see The Freedonia Group’s extensive collection of off-the-shelf research, particularly our series of studies in the Packaging, Construction, and Consumer Goods catalogs, with analysis covering Recycled Plastics in Packaging, Decking, Plastic Pipe, Fencing, Countertops, Global Cement, and more. Freedonia Custom Research is also available for questions requiring tailored market intelligence.

Our Pandemic Habits…and the Smells in Our Homes

Did you get a pet? Did your gym routine move to your family room? Did you start cooking more, including fish? Did your work-at-home habits downgrade your self-care? Does your home smell like it?

More and more people are concerned about this, especially as higher rates of vaccinations and booster doses have many of us more comfortable bringing friends and family back into our homes for visits.

Consumers increasingly sought out air cleaners and ventilation systems to improve our indoor air quality in recent years. Earlier adopters of home air treatment systems were often seeking a way to help with allergies, from dust to pet dander, which often build up in our homes. Others added the systems out of concern about volatile organic chemicals off-gassing from materials (e.g., carpets, paint, glues) used in our homes. More recently, we sought treatments from high-tech (HEPA filters) to low-tech (mechanical ventilation and opening windows) to make our homes and businesses healthier and safer in a COVID era.

But what about the smells? Many air treatment systems include carbon filters to help with odor removal, but they work best if the system is sized for the room it is in. Additionally, anything that allows air exchange – whether fresh from outdoors or from moving through an air cleaning system – will help with odor removal.

Of course, tackling odors at the source are still important…and industries are looking for opportunities there as well. For example, kitty litter that doesn’t have the kitty litter smell, wipes for in between the dog’s bath, sprays and detergent to tackle laundry smells, and candles and sprays from light and natural to perfumed exist or are entering the market to help us out.

But still, don’t forget to go outside…and open that window when you can!

For more information and discussion of opportunities, see The Freedonia Group’s extensive collection of off-the-shelf research, particularly our series of studies in Construction and Consumer Goods catalogs, with analysis covering Indoor Air Quality Equipment, Global Residential HVAC, and more. Freedonia Custom Research is also available for questions requiring tailored market intelligence.

Why is Gardening Trending in the Media… in January?

You might have noticed as we have that both the Wall Street Journal and The Guardian (and I’m sure others) have articles about gardening trending on their pages.

But… isn’t it January? Many of us are wearing winter coats and the eastern US is digging out from a winter storm. This is well outside the typical growing season for much of the US, as well as Canada, Europe, and more.

But what makes us think about gardening in winter… and, by extension, why might the pandemic gardening boom be one that sticks with us?

  • Gardening is productive. We get something out of it and success involves improving skills.
  • Gardening is meditative and soothing. It is quiet and can be solitary.
  • Gardening is community. We share seeds, seedlings, ideas, our harvest.
  • Gardening is hope. We plant with the hope that they will bloom, no matter how tumultuous our world.
  • Gardening is nurturing. We care for the plants to help them grow. (Ever heard of “Plant Parents?” Ask a younger person)
  • Gardening is exercise. We work hard pulling weeds, digging dirt, and bending and stooping to harvest.
  • Gardening can be done by anyone. Don’t have a yard? Get some pots or join a community garden.
  • Gardening is for all ages. The idea of the retired person spending their days in the garden is real (it takes time!), but how many of us first learned about plant varieties as children from our grandparents or did our first gardening as chores for our parents, community service, or a summer job?
  • Gardening is COVID-safe… as much as things can be anyway. We’re outside in the fresh air, often socially distanced.

Freedonia analysts continue to examine and track the consumer behaviors, attitudes, and trends that affect how we live now and in the post-pandemic future.

For more information and discussion of opportunities, see The Freedonia Group’s extensive collection of off-the-shelf research, particularly our series of studies in the Consumer Goods catalogs, with analysis covering Outdoor Living, Landscaping Products, Power Lawn & Garden Equipment, Home & Garden Pesticides, Lawn & Garden Consumables (fertilizers, growing media, pesticides, etc), and Lawn & Garden Watering Products. Freedonia Custom Research is also available for questions requiring tailored market intelligence

  Consumer Goods      Industry Studies    

Delta… Omicron…? Are Consumers Concerned About Current & Future COVID-19 Variants?

Many of us started 2021 with a lot of hope…highly effective and safe vaccines were arriving and were being distributed in increasingly wide circles.

Then came the variants.

The Delta variant, which spread widely in the summer and through the fall, was determined to be more aggressive with more contagion and illness even in children. After investigations, the vaccines were found to be effective against Delta. However, children and many adults were still not vaccinated.

With the winter holidays upon us came news of the Omicron variant. First discovered in South Africa and rapidly spreading globally.

The thought among many was “here we go again…” as unvaccinated populations remain vectors for variants to develop and spread, including the potential for ones which could evade current vaccine protection.

But is it? There’s no denying that many if not most are suffering from some level of “pandemic fatigue” and are tired of COVID driving or effecting their decision making. Still, the rise of a new and yet unknown variant as we prepared to gather for the holidays introduces a level of uncertainty into the economy.

In the October-November edition of the Freedonia Group National Online Consumer Survey (conducted October 16-November 5, 2021), 33% of respondents reported being very concerned about the Delta variant of COVID-19 and potential future variants. Another 42% reported being somewhat concerned about them. Only 11% said they were not concerned at all.

The concern is highest among people:

  • age 35-39 – more than half are very concerned and a total of 86% are either somewhat or very concerned
  • with children under 18 in their household – 78% were somewhat or very concerned compared to 71% of those who did not have children in their household. People with children aged 6-11 were most likely to report that they were very concerned (41%).
  • who work from home more than usual because of the pandemic – 47% reported being very concerned and a total of 86% were either somewhat or very concerned. In contrast, among those who do not work from home more, only 25% were very concerned and a total of 70% were at least somewhat concerned.

This survey was conducted before the Omicron variant began to be reported in the news. The Freedonia Group has another edition of the survey being conducted now, which will reflect that news. Freedonia analysts will remain vigilant of changes in consumer sentiment as we wrap up 2021 and move into 2022.

For more information and discussion of opportunities, see The Freedonia Group’s extensive collection of off-the-shelf research, particularly our series studies in the Consumer Goods catalog. Freedonia Custom Research is also available for questions requiring tailored market intelligence.

  Consumer Goods      Industry Studies    

Home Depot Looks to Bring Same-Day Delivery to Home Improvement Market

For many homeowners considering a DIY home improvement project, a trip to the local big-box retailer was traditionally an integral part of the job – whether it was to window shop, visualize the new kitchen or bathroom, or to select and buy the materials needed for the project.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic has altered many of these traditional patterns:

  • Consumers were leery of entering retail stores and thus began shopping online (as of the August-September 2021 edition of The Freedonia Group National Online Consumer Survey, 51% of respondents indicated that they decreased their frequency of browsing in stores and 31% indicated they were still limiting time spent in physical stores because of the coronavirus pandemic).
  • Homeowners increasingly undertook non-traditional projects – such as converting a spare room into a home office – and thus needed a wider range of materials to complete a project.
  • Ongoing shortages of building materials (such as lumber, fasteners, and plastic building products) meant that even if consumers did enter a store, they were frustrated by an inability to purchase the products they needed.

The home improvement industry has looked for ways to continue to reach customers, with firms adding lockers for storing purchased goods for future pickup by a consumer or expanding delivery options (so that products are unloaded when fewer people are at a job site). However, most of these services were directed to construction professionals and not the DIY consumer.

Recently, though, Home Depot announced a new program to enhance shopping for the DIYer. The company will partner with Wal-Mart’s Walmart GoLocal delivery business to provide same- and next-day shipping to both DIYers and construction professionals. Consumers can order the full range of Home Depot’s product line – from lumber to lighting, paint to plumbing products – from the comfort of their homes and offices and have them delivered – at a desired time – to a place of their choosing. Indeed, for many DIYers, this is a godsend, as the delays caused by the return trip to the store will be eliminated (hopefully!)

As e-commerce becomes more entrenched in the US economy, it is not surprising that companies will expand their delivery offerings to maintain – if not expand – sales.

For more information and discussion of opportunities, see The Freedonia Group’s extensive collection of off-the-shelf research. Freedonia Custom Research is also available for questions requiring tailored market intelligence.

  Consumer Goods      Industry Studies