Much of the world’s trade and cargo transport is done by ship, where massive naval ships are carrying many tons of cargo stored inside steel shipping containers. Most Americans have seen these shipping containers in person or on TV: they are long, steel boxes that are often painted a solid color, and nearly anything can be put in them for transport. These steel boxes are quite useful for commerce, but not all of the world’s steel containers are actually being used. Some are just sitting around in long-term storage, and many people agree that this is wasteful. So, that’s when cargo container modifications may take over, and many old shipping containers can be remade into shipping container homes, mobile office containers, and more. How many steel shipping boxes are available for this sort of work, and what sort of buildings are possible to make out of them? Container homes are just the beginning, after all.

All About Steel Containers

These steel boxes are often built in China, and they carry goods to and from the world’s ports every single day aboard huge ships. Some of them may be as little as 40 feet long, but the largest models can be over 1,300 feet long and carry many tons of goods inside them at once. Today, around 17 million of these containers exist around the world, with over five million in current use. Altogether, they make 200 million trips every year, according to data from Billie Box. But this means that 11-12 million shipping containers are not in use, and they’re just sitting around, doing no good to anyone. Many businesses today are quite conscious bout resource efficiency and reclaiming old materials, and this can extend to shipping containers.

Many entrepreneurs are getting their hands on old shipping containers to re-purpose them, and if nothing else, these old steel boxed can be melted down into raw materials. After all, steel is a very widely used material around the world, and it is recycled at a 90% rate (making it one of the most vigorously recycled materials of all). Just one typical steel container can be melted down to yield a few tons of steel, which can be used in all kinds of ways, and that boosts resource efficiency. But otherwise, cargo container modifications can be done on these boxes, and make them useful in all kinds of surprising ways. What opportunities do cargo container modifications offer?

New Uses for Old Containers

Cargo container modifications are practical to do since not only are there many shipping containers available for use, but they are tough and ideally shaped for making buildings out of. Such containers are rectangular and have walls, a ceiling, and a floor, so they re like the skeleton of a new building. Around the year 2010, entrepreneurs on the West Coast got the idea to cut out holes in old shipping boxes, and convert them into fast food restaurants and coffee shops. This idea proved a success, and many more entrepreneurs have followed this example ever since.

Holes can be cut in the box to form windows, and smaller holes are cut to allow utilities such as water, electricity, and natural gas to flow in and out of them. The walls, floor, and ceiling can be fabricated to make them more like a regular place of business, including carpeting and lighting fixtures, and a fully functional kitchen or coffee brewing station can be set up as well (not to mention a counter and cash register).

Something similar can be done to build not only coffee shops or eateries, but also residences from these steel containers. Modern cargo container modifications allow one or more boxes to make a house, fully furnished. Larger shipping container homes are made of two or more boxes that have some of their walls removed so that they are combined to form a single, larger space. A few of these shipping container homes even have a second floor and outdoor stairwell. Finally, construction firms may also buy these steel containers and refurbish them into mobile offices. After all, it is common for construction managers to use small, mobile offices to travel to any current construction project on site and oversee the operations.

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