Shipping containers make globalization possible in a way only rivaled by the internet. Almost all internationally shipped good travel inside a shipping container, and last year that totaled almost two hundred million big metal boxes going somewhere important. On any given day, five to six million shipping containers are in transit on the ocean. Over ten thousand containers are lost at sea every year. Air freight is faster, but consumes more fuel and resources.
The move to make better shipping containers is hampered by the fact that currently they are cheap to produce, enough that in ports there are piles of abandoned containers slowly rusting into oblivion. A few companies are working on more environmentally friendly solutions to the current design of shipping containers.
One small Dutch company has designed a box that collapses to only a quarter of its size while empty. Were this design to be adopted it could potentially same room and fuel for shippers. A UK-based company has started to build containers lined with bamboo rather than woods taken from the rain forest. These containers have been very well received as the bamboo is as durable as the more slowly-growing wood it replaces, and has the advantage of a cheaper cost. Another company is working on the paint used to coat and protect the metal of the container, developing a solvent-fee paint that is less likely to pollute.
On an interesting note, the recycling of shipping containers has been trending worldwide, with eco-houses built of shipping containers becoming popular. Reusing salvage materials for inexpensive housing is hardly new, but this alternative housing movement is helping recycle the shipping containers that would otherwise rust away.
Shippers are also working to reduce emissions; a move that helps them economically, as well, because generally less emissions also equals better fuel economy. To this end, lighter containers for shipping and especially air freight are a major concern. The more air freight weighs the more fuel it takes to move it. New containers that weigh 40% less than traditional steel containers greatly help with emission reduction. But even reducing the weight of air freight is not enough.
Shipping by container is much more environmentally friendly than by air, just on comparison of emissions. The carbon footprint of a jet is larger than the equivalent cargo carrier. Some speculate that airships, lighter-than-air vessels, will become the wave of the future. Cargo carrying blimps wouldn’t move as fast as a jet, but could actually carry more, and burn far less fuel – as much as 90% less.
Nan Gibbons is an environmentalist and jet set fitness expert. She spends her time traveling to advise at sporting events, being a motivational speaker, and volunteering at various environmental charities. In her free time, she enjoys running the beach with her best friend and lab mix Cody.