Texas Plastics Exports Sustain Port of Houston's Container Volume

Houston container terminal
File image courtesy Port of Houston

Published Apr 17, 2023 6:52 PM by The Maritime Executive

Texas' booming plastic industry is firing on all cylinders, fueled by abundant resources of local natural gas and petroleum, and it has grown large enough that it is sustaining the Port of Houston's container handling volume despite a broad downturn in imports. 

Port Houston is the nation’s number one port for plastic resin exports, handling about 60 percent of all outbound U.S. resins and nearly 75 percent of all exported U.S. polyethylene resins. Texas is a mega-hub for raw plastics manufacturing, and it continues to see growth in activity and processing capacity, like the future Chevron/QatarEnergy polyethylene plant in the city of Orange. Overseas demand for Texas' raw plastic nurdles is high enough that ocean carriers are redistributing empties to Houston to ensure availability of equipment for all the exports.

While import-dependent ports on the west coast have struggled to stem falling volumes, Houston's overall business has benefited from the natural buffer created by its local export market. In the first quarter, the port handled about 935,000 TEU, an increase of about three percent compared with last year. 

“We continue to see the softening of import demand across the U.S. and in Houston as well, where loaded import container TEUs at Port Houston’s terminals were down 12 percent in March. However, total throughput is offset by the strong export market we have in Houston and our ability to provide both export and import customers excellent customer service, skilled labor, and an efficient gateway,” said Roger Guenther, Executive Director at Port Houston.

The port continues to invest in capacity to handle future growth and plans to spend $1.4 billion in infrastructure improvements over the next five years. Port Houston’s Bayport Container Terminal is getting ready for the arrival of three new STS cranes and the completion of a new wharf later this year, and the Barbours Cut Container Terminal will get 14 new RTGs by early 2024.