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Shipping Container Life Cycle Gives It Quite a Story to Tell



Shipping containers are built to last decades. When properly stored and maintained, they can withstand hundreds of trips by sea, rail, or roadway. Typically, a used shipping container can have a service life of at least 10-12 years in harsh environments like the sea and still be in good enough shape to be refurbished for many other purposes.

Many 40-foot shipping containers are not packed to capacity, but they end up on ships more often than 20-foot shipping containers. Because they are exposed to harsher environments associated with seawater – salt and moisture - they are more susceptible to rust and corrosion.  

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The lifespan of a container is dependent on various factors, including the environment they have used it, what products they carried, where they were stored, and whether they were damaged during loading and unloading.  

While each shipping container has its own unique journey, the general life cycle of containers is similar. This blog will outline the process containers go through, beginning from manufacturing to how they are used for a variety of purposes.  

Phase 1: Manufacturing Shipping Containers

A large percentage of the world's shipping containers are made in factories throughout China. The workers are highly skilled, and because they will work for less money than those in the United States, the cost of labor for shipping containers is not high.  

Each container is assigned a seven-digit number that is used to track the container’s journey and help identify what its storing, its destination, whether it is full or empty, whether the use is for import or export, port information, and other relevant information.  

New shipping containers are typically shipped to the United States or Europe to be put to use transporting goods and materials. These containers are called “one trip” containers and are sold to shipping companies. 

You can read more about the shipping container manufacturing process here.

Phase 2: Shipyard to destination

Once containers are manufactured, they are loaded for transport to the shipping yard to be used by the owner. They are typically secured using locking cones and lashing bars during the trip by boat, train, or truck.  

When they arrive at the intended shipping yard, containers are typically unloaded, stacked five containers high, and stored temporarily at the port shipping yard until picked up for use. 

Drivers arrive to pick up containers that match the right identification numbers. As they exit the shipping yard, trucks are weighed with the container loaded to make sure the weight meets the maximum specified weight. Each container has a maximum tear weight to ensure it maintains the structural integrity of the container and avoids damage.  

The shipping container is then taken to its specified location, where it is unloaded. Once it’s been loaded, the container is then assigned to another job by the owner.  

To get a better view of the people and equipment involved in the daily operation of a container shipping terminal, watch this video

Phase 3: Beyond shipping 

It’s rare for a shipping container to remain with its original owner. Most are sold multiple times for various purposes over their life cycle. Once its days of shipping and carrying cargo are over, many containers can be used for many unique business or personal purposes.  

Companies like Container One sell shipping containers to consumers and businesses. Because they are built to withstand harsh conditions, are cost-effective, sturdy, and easily customizable, shipping containers are often repurposed. 

Individuals and businesses have become very creative in the ways they use shipping containers. Uses are limited only by the imagination and include anything from housing, restaurants, self-storage businesses, swimming pools, vacation homes, hotels, and much more.  

To see some creative ideas on how to use shipping containers, click here.