Shipping containers are typically used to store and transport goods. However, they’ve gotten a second life lately as low-cost housing, retail building, and even swimming pools. As shipping container use continues to increase, you might see more of them in your city, far away from the ports where you expect to see them. Let’s explore the history and specifics of shipping containers, and the innovative ways people are using them today.
Shipping containers are often called “The Box.” Most of them are made of steel with hinged doors and are typically used to store goods and stack on container ships for transport. The first shipping container was invented and patented in 1956 by a man from North Carolina named Malcolm McLean.
The standard measurement for a shipping container is called TEU. It stands for twenty-foot, equivalent unit. In other words, a twenty-foot container is one TEU. A forty-foot container is two TEUs. The width of a shipping container is always eight feet, although their heights can vary. Per ISO standards, shipping containers can weigh up to 11,000 pounds when empty and up to 68,000 pounds when loaded.
With the completion of the expansion of the Panama Canal, ships capable of holding over 12,000 TEUs can now make the passage. That’s almost triple the previous capacity!
The completion of the expansion is expected to increase the number of TEUs being handled by approximately 5 percent per year, with the majority of the growth occurring on the East Coast.
The increase in ship size will drastically reduce the shipping time and cost from Asia to the East Coast and the growth will require more equipment to handle the increased volume. It will also improve business for the railroads and other support industries like storage yards.
Many companies use shipping containers, but typically you see them at ports, rail yards, offsite storage facilities and manufacturing plants. A shipping container is used beyond housing, retail building and swimming pools, people use shipping containers as indoor gardens, saunas, portable toilets, fire training facilities, schools, and emergency hospitals.