15 Awesome Ways to Reuse Shipping Containers

Shipping containers are highly useful for a wide range of industries who transport items worldwide. Despite having such a clear-cut functionality, an interesting phenomenon has developed in recent years for shipping containers, which now have a very active second life once they’ve been retired from active duty in the shipping industry. It’s a well-known fact that the types of steel shipping containers that are commonly used in the global shipping industry are only useful for a lifespan of about five years. Despite being sent out to pasture as a shipping container, these incredibly durable structures can be used in plenty of other ways.

If sustainability is important to you then the idea to reuse shipping containers is a no-brainer. Therefore, it’s not surprising that many of the earliest projects to showcase the utility of reusing shipping containers take on a very “eco-friendly” flare. Along with sustainability, many people are fascinated with reusing these materials because they’re able to gain significant savings of both time and money if they do. Early commercial projects have shown substantial wins in those areas, which means this trend is unlikely to slow down soon. Instead, it’s much more likely you’ll see people reuse shipping containers in more creative applications as time progresses. People tend to imitate great ideas when they see them in action!

Shipping Containers Are Used
as Housing Units

Whether it’s used as an entire “micro house,” or just for a single room expansion, shipping containers are taking their place in the housing industry as more people innovate with the concept. Interested consumers are able to purchase used shipping containers that can be retrofitted into a housing unit. Alternatively, preconfigured units are available that are already outfitted for housing purposes by a third-party. The basic rectangular shape of a standard shipping container makes it well-suited to serve housing functions easily. One unit can be used as an enclosed room, while multiple storage units can be integrated to meet the needs of the occupants.

Discarded Shipping Containers
Become Art

Many artists reuse shipping containers for their art exhibits and projects. They’ve been doing it for a number of years now. The boxy shapes and the fact that the units can be easily painted with bright, metallic colors have excited the imaginations of artists worldwide, who are working on large vibrant outdoor art displays. Container art is popular around the world, with large exhibitions being held in various locales throughout the year.

A Hotel Built from Shipping
Containers

Proving the concept of how far shipping containers have gone in their afterlife is the existence of Travelodge Hotel in Uxbridge, London. That venerable establishment is entirely constructed from re-purposed shipping containers, many of which have been snapped on top of each other. In all, 86 containers have been used in building the 120 room hotel. The big attraction for the company who built this project was that the containers saved them on materials and labor costs, as well as significantly reducing the time required to construct the hotel by a full ten weeks. There are many other such projects currently planned in the hotel industry.

Children’s Centers Can Be Constructed
from Shipping Containers

Using shipping containers instead of other raw materials has helped several recent children’s centers open for business. Kids in Melbourne, Australia have learned that playing in four converted shipping containers is great fun! Shipping containers are large and durable, which makes converting them into “fun space” for kids is really easy. Using these containers is a way to reduce construction costs and eliminate waste. Those are viable goals for many organizations. Several other children’s center projects are now slated for completion.

A Museum That Floats When
Needed

Gregory Colbert needed a temporary structure that could be assembled no matter in which port in the world it landed. He settled on using shipping containers for his “Nomadic Museum,” which he constructed entirely from shipping containers. The advantage of this type of museum was just how easily it could travel from one major destination to the next. Once it arrived, the museum was easy to assemble for an exhibition.

Retail and Office Buildings
Benefit from Containers

The arts community has been very excited about using shipping containers as art. Their enthusiasm has meant that a large number of art displays have been unveiled using this material. They aren’t the only ones who are excited about the potential uses of these materials. A number of commercial developers have also jumped on the bandwagon, using shipping containers to build diverse retail and office structures.




One project, known as the Seventh-Kilometre market outside of Odessa, Ukraine has used shipping container designs for decades. The facility was built this way out of necessity, but has thrived for years, with over 150,000 shoppers visiting daily. There are now several alternate projects in the plans using the same concept, even though the developers aren’t forced to use shipping containers. They’re choosing the material because of the cost and time savings offered.

Student Housing Project Erected
from Shipping Containers

A unique project in the Netherlands shows the vast potential of using shipping containers for alternative construction projects. The student housing project, called Keetwonen, is comprised of 1,000 containers which have now been converted into affordable student housing. The units have been big hits with students. Initially, some students were concerned that the units would be too small and too hot, but, since they’ve been deployed, the housing project has achieved a high degree of satisfaction from those who stay there. The units provided so many extra amenities, that students are now asking to stay in these buildings, proving just how popular this concept really is.

Go for a Dip in Your Brand New Pool

On the River Spree, visitors to Berlin will find The Badeschiff, which translates into English as “the bathing ship.” The Spree River is so polluted that people never swim there. This new “bathing ship” allows them to safely swim inside of what once served as shipping containers. This gives swimmers the opportunity to experience the joy of swimming in the Spree, without any of the danger. Unlike many projects of this sort, the Badeschiff made use of a very large container that once sailed the oceans. Now happy swimmers enjoy the warmth of a nice afternoon in a pool that is known for its innovation and safety. The Badeschiff has become a very popular safety. The Badeschiff has become a very popular

Get Your Espresso from a Shipping
Container Cafe

Espresso company Illy unveiled a cafe constructed from shipping containers at several events around the world. Most people who saw the structure marveled at its beauty and functionality. Kiosks and smaller displays are an area with a lot of potentials to use shipping containers. The lower costs make experimenting with this material worth the effort. As more developers innovate globally, it seems likely that any business that requires mobility and a flexible solution would benefit from the portability and convenience a shipping container can provide for business purposes.

A Gorgeous Exhibition
Space/Observatory Was Constructed

Visitors to Incheon City, Korea get to experience a rare treat. The Mayor of that city was excited about the potential uses of discarded shipping containers. He set his staff on a mission to come up with some interesting new ideas that would incorporate them into useful shipping container designs that helped people experience more in life.

The result of the initiatives by AnL Studios are truly inspirational. They used three shipping containers, which were joined by steps and connected at varying angles, to offer breathtaking views of the world’s largest port. The use of shipping containers for this structure seems wholly appropriate and symmetric, considering what the observers see. The exhibit is a new way of looking at old containers in an entirely new way.

Live in a Glamorous Two-Story
Tree House

Now everyone has a chance to live out a childhood fantasy. A converted shipping container has been turned into a functional, two-story tree house by Golany Architects of Israel. They integrated an abandoned shipping container into a formation with two Jerusalem pine trees to create a unique tree house.

They integrated their construction materials closely with materials found near Jerusalem, so the final composition offers a blended aesthetic appeal. Tree houses may not always be the most practical solution, but the rendition offered by Golany Architects is inspirational in its use of shipping containers in a completely natural setting.

Enjoy an Amazing Picnic on
Governor’s Island

Visitors who take picnics on Governor’s Island in New York get to experience picnic huts that have been constructed from shipping containers. The brightly painted containers keep visitors safe from the elements. This type of outdoor use is a good one for a repurposed shipping container.


The units do an excellent job of standing up to diverse weather, and they are extremely easy to paint. For any outdoor venue that wants to easily add a splash of color and a bit of protection from elements to one of their exhibits, these containers may be an excellent idea. This is even truer when you’re dealing with any sort of maritime theme.

A Community Market Built to Be
Sustainable

DeKalb Market in Brooklyn ran until 2012, and it was an open air market in that borough which was designed to showcase the potential a sustainable market contains. Urban Space was behind the project. They have a number of active projects going and have stated that DeKalb market may come back again in the future. Their initial run proved the concepts of community agriculture, sustainability, and modern shipping container design could be melded to create a useful space for people to shop.

These days, several specialty suppliers offer container market stalls for sales as part of their standard products lines, so you can be assured that the growth in this market is strong. Retired shipping containers make excellent additions to marketplaces of all sizes. They’re also awesome for anyone who wants to build a “pop-up shop” with a bit of mobility. The “business in a box” possibilities are limited only by imagination.

Deploy New Storage Units Easily

One use of shipping containers that really reflects their true nature is turning them into storage spaces. It’s easy to build a shed or garage out of containers that are no longer being used in the shipping industry. For people who are fortunate enough to find containers available at a steep discount, they can be easily transformed into storage units with a small amount of ingenuity.


The only problem some people may run into are zoning laws, but, for people with property in remote locations, these may not be a big deal. There are many examples of these type of storage units and how people constructed them. It won’t be hard to come up with a basic plan once you’ve located the container. All it takes is a small amount of ingenuity combined with a genuine interest in reducing waste!

Shops and Restaurants Offer a Growth Sector in Shipping
Container Use

Shops and restaurants do very well when they use a bit of that “wow factor” to attract customers. One thing that’s always exciting to a potential customer is something that’s a brand new concept. In that spirit, many entrepreneurs and artisans have created restaurants and shops out of shipping containers in the last few years. You know the trend is expanding rapidly when a major retailer gets in on the act.


Starbucks used shipping containers to build a new store in Tukwila, a city located south of Seattle. The store was built using only four containers in total, resulting in a smaller location where walk-in and drive-thru services are available. The project is focused on reduced energy costs with a strong emphasis on recycling.


What’s most exciting about this store for eco-enthusiasts is that Starbucks has 17,000 locations and is an elite company. If they’re to find a lot of success using this new concept, it will help others do the same rapidly. One interesting aspect of the store in Tukwila is that Starbucks didn’t do much to disguise the fact they used shipping containers to build it. The designers stated that they wanted the project to serve as a blueprint for others who may be considering recycled items for construction use.


The number of different applications of reused shipping containers continues to climb. All signs are positive that this trend is extremely beneficial, with lots of room for worldwide growth. The concept of using shipping containers for sustainability purposes has become a philosophical tenet for major companies that take their corporate responsibilities seriously. Waste is a major concern for all businesses in the industrial and commercial vertical. By recycling and repurposing as much as possible, companies reduce their ecological footprint and are kinder to the environment. This is a winning combination that is bound to win more than its fair share of supporters over time.


There’s little question that the projects that have been initiated in the last few years have sparked the imaginations of business leaders to the point where they’re ready to take massive action about integrating shipping containers when they’re able to.

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