Conservative estimates suggest that there are 17 million intermodal shipping containers currently in circulation, around 5 million of which are actively traversing the globe as air, ocean or land freight (source), carrying roughly 90% of all traded goods (source). Other estimates suggest that there may be as many as 530 million shipping containers located around the world! (source)
Whilst these figures are wildly ambiguous, we do know that the lifespan of a shipping container is around 25 years, roughly double the average length of time that it is in active use. So what happens to these containers once they are no longer being used for freight? Here we look at some of the most innovative ways that shipping containers can be recycled and reused after they’ve finished their life transporting goods across the world.
Seaspace International are specialists in a wide range of freight forwarding services, and have been transporting products globally via air, sea and land since 1988. With comprehensive technical knowledge our experts are also available to answer your questions on a consultancy basis.
Innovative ways to upcycle old shipping containers
Take a look at some innovative examples of shipping container architecture below:
Shipping containers have been used for residential housing projects ranging from small scale self builds and ‘tiny homes’ to full scale housing developments, like the 100 apartment ‘Cite A Docks’ student accommodation in France. Affordable and conducive to quick and efficient construction, non-permanent shipping container dwellings also offer the added benefit of typically being planning permission exempt in the UK.
Shops and restaurants
The sustainability and reduced ecological footprint of upcycling shipping containers has seen them become increasingly popular in the construction of retail and restaurant spaces. Boxpark Shoreditch was the world’s first pop-up dining and shopping destination, and is an excellent example of the possibilities of shipping container architecture.
Shipping containers can also be used to create a diverse range of work spaces, including home offices, which can either be self built or purchased as a completed ‘off the shelf’ product. Other noteworthy innovations include the recent repurposing of shipping containers as ICU units, like this CURA prototype which has been installed at a hospital in Turin, Northern Italy.
Back garden bars/sheds
Their versatility and easily customisable features make shipping containers an excellent choice for those wanting to create a unique space at home from which to escape the daily grind. They’ve been used for all manner of things including backyard bars, as well as plant greenhouses and shed/storage spaces.
Benefits of repurposing shipping containers
There are clearly many ways in which shipping containers can be reused and repurposed, but what are the benefits of doing so in comparison with traditional building techniques?
Ecologically and environmentally friendly
Quite simply, they already exist, and without upcycling millions of shipping containers would sit deteriorating, obsolete and unused. Their use as building components also reduces the requirement for alternate building materials such as concrete, brick and timber, further reducing the ecological footprint of any shipping container construction.
Shipping container architecture is also significantly lower in cost than traditional building, with the average cost for a typical build in the UK at around £240,000. In comparison, shipping container homes can cost as little as £80,000, and even less in some instances where other materials are reclaimed and upcycled.
Designed to withstand extreme weather conditions for extended periods of time, shipping containers are extremely durable and come in all shapes and sizes, typically from 6-45 feet in length, making them excellent building components for a wide range of purposes. Their average lifespan of 25 years can also be increased through regular and proper maintenance.
How to purchase an old shipping container
So you’ve decided that you’re going to repurpose an old shipping container, but where do you start in terms of buying one?
Typically shipping containers are bought and sold online, but occasionally abandoned and disused containers are also auctioned by shipping agents.
Are all shipping containers the same?
Very simply put, no. There are many variations in terms of size, quality, usage and many other factors which need to be considered before buying a shipping container. Here are some examples of things to consider before any purchase:
New vs used
New shipping containers will almost always cost more than used containers. However, the term ‘used’ is very broad and refers to ‘one trip’ containers as well as those that have endured years of service. It’s wise to shop around, and prices can often be negotiated.
Buy cheap and risk buying twice. Shipping containers constructed from weathering steel, or COR TEN steel will be more durable and have longer lifespans than the cheaper alternatives.
Just remember that once you’ve purchased your 40 foot container, you’ll need to get it to where it’s going! Unless you have a truck you’re going to need the seller to deliver the container, which can be expensive, especially if you also need to hire cranes and/or side lifters.
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