Can shipping containers be recycled?

Can shipping containers be recycled?

90% of the world’s goods are transported in shipping containers and there are estimated to be approximately 200 million of them worldwide! After years of being loaded and unloaded and shipped around the globe, they are subject to a considerable amount of wear and tear.

When used for the purpose they were originally intended for (the primary means of protecting and housing consumer goods during long oceanic voyages) shipping containers have a lifespan of around ten years. A combination of direct sunlight, salty water and rough handling ensures that after a decade at sea in these roles, containers aren’t quite fit for purpose anymore. It’s sometimes cheaper to ‘retire’ containers prematurely than to ship them back to their country of origin. Many of these are ‘retired’ even though they remain structurally sound. The result? A growing population of retired shipping containers forming lego-like stacks of orange, blue and green towers in cities and dockyards.

So what happens to a shipping container in retirement? The great news is that these can be upcycled, sold or scrapped easily. We know better than almost anyone that there’s almost no limit to the things you can do with an upcycled shipping container.The question we tackle in this post is, can shipping containers be recycledThe recycling conscious amongst us, worry about discarding little things: yoghurt containers, cereal boxes and egg cartons correctly. But how do you approach recycling when the object in question is larger than an elephant? 

 

Recycle your shipping container

Shipping containers are made out of steel. Steel is incredibly strong and versatile, hence it has become one of the world’s most popular metals. As well as having these useful properties, steel is one of the only man-made materials that is entirely recyclable! Because of this, scrap steel rarely goes to waste.

 

The differences between ferrous and non-ferrous scrap metal

Examples of ferrous metals include engineering steel, carbon steel, cast iron, stainless steel, and wrought iron. They’re used for their tensile strength – which means they can be drawn out and stretched – and durability. You come across ferrous metals in construction, large-scale piping, cars, train-track rails, a lot of tools and hardware, the knives you cook with at home and, of course, ISO standard industrial containers.

Whereas ferrous metals (and their alloys) contain iron; non-ferrous materials don’t. It’s not so easy to tell them apart when just by looking at them. But luckily, there are lots of other factors that differentiate the two. We can identify a piece of ferrous scrap metal from a non-ferrous piece because:

  • They rust – Wrought iron is iron pure so it resists oxidization (AKA rusting) and stainless steel is combined with lots of different elements in a clever combination that protects it from the rusting process. Normal steel, on the other hand, will eventually rust if left in the right environment.
  • They’re magnetic – when you can’t tell the difference by eye, this property is very useful for separating recyclable scrap metal from non-recyclable scrap. In fact, it helps to make ferrous metals the most recycled materials in the world. Ferrous metal objects can be automatically extracted from non-sorted refuse or separated from other recyclable materials using efficient and low cost magnets. Magnetic recovery is in fact the most efficient and cost effective way of extracting ferrous metal from non-sorted domestic waste.

With every ton of steel recycled, you can save 1.5 tonnes of iron ore, half a ton of coal 75% of the energy and 40% of the water you need to make steel from scratch. Recycling also produces considerably less air and water pollution than the creation of new steel. The knife and fork you use to eat your dinner could once have been part of a bridge or a battleship before their fate was to be retired to the dining table.

Depending on what additions you make when converting your container, you’ll probably only need to dismantle and remove some parts in order for it to qualify as recyclable scrap metal. Although they may be entirely recyclable, you can’t exactly just pop a container into your recycling bin. Upcycling, selling or taking it to a scrap yard are often the best options for individuals. There are scrapping schemes through which you can have your container safely taken off your hands and scrapped.

 

If you’re interested in finding out more, or fancy getting hold of a high-quality shipping container of your own get in touch with our friendly team of experts.

05.10.2018
Outdoor containers
Logistics

Containers: the catch-all solution for your outdoor events

all electric cargo resized
Logistics

The ‘Tesla of the canals’ – the all-electric cargo ship that is set to sail very soon

unit hire lock featured image
Logistics

Back to basics: how to secure your shipping container

shipping container home
Logistics

Do you need planning permission for a shipping container home in the UK?