Why is the shipping container so useful? To put it simply, they are essentially large steel boxes. They are designed with enough strength to be filled with hefty goods and lugged around by huge cranes. However, the importance of containers is found in what they facilitate: international trade. In making this aspect increasingly easier, they have subsequently assisted globalisation and changed our everyday lives.
The relationship between globalisation and container shipping is a reciprocal one. In the end, there is no doubt that the expansion of international trade and the global movement of manufacturing systems would have been impossible if not for the efficiencies and economies of scale that shipping containers has brought.
Lowering shipping costs:
The shipping container may seem an unlikely candidate for one of the most influential inventions of the 20th century. However, long before the creation of shipping containers, loading a ship was a complicated task which involved crates, winches and pallets. The process was overall very labour-intensive and costly in which each item was separately loaded onto a cargo ship. This meant that most goods were not worth the effort to shift overseas.
The invention of the standardised shipping container solved the problem on a large scale and ultimately turned the economy in the 1970’s on its head. The standardisation drove the cost of shipping down as the efficiency of ports skyrocketed. In this day and age, modern ports can move upwards of 70 containers per crane per hour. After the barrier of shipping costs were successfully removed, production began to migrate towards countries with cheaper costs of manufacturing. This significant decrease in time and money spent to ship commercial goods, positioned the industry up for vast growth and opportunity.
Making consumers the winners:
The level of economic integration and trade today, would not be made possible if it were not for shipping containers. The present world has been shaped by the container, as Journalist Rose George states:
‘These ships and boxes belong to a business that feeds, clothes, warms, and supplies us. They have fuelled if not created globalization. They are the reason behind your cheap T-shirt and reasonably priced television.’
The use of containers is also defined by the term ‘containerisation’, once this process became well-known the internal supply chain became smoother and foreign goods were flooding the market. Also, due to advancements in container technology such as refrigeration, reefer containers have made it possible for fresh goods to be taken anywhere in the world. Through the advancement of the global supply chain and the ease of transport made possible by shipping containers it meant that businesses could develop components of the final product in completely different countries. In the end, consumers are the lucky ones who benefit from much cheaper products due to decreased costs of shipping and international trade.
Help small and start up business make their mark:
In helping consumers, containerisation has also increased globalisation which has resulted in an increase of employment among countries, cities and regions. Shipping containers are even sneaking into the housing market. We can see in many trendy parts of towns that containers are becoming a uniquely fashionable work space for bars, restaurants, start-ups and shops alike.
In a particular example, Pop Brixton which is located near the centre of Brixton in London is a community space which was built with the idea to buy shipping containers which were recycled. It intended to support small businesses from the local area. The site itself supports a community of 53 independent businesses in which, 70% are local to the area and currently supports 405 jobs. Over 50 containers are used in total, providing both a quick and environmentally-friendly means of constructions which also allows businesses varying from food and drink, creative industries, retail and the arts. When looking into Pop Brixton and their use of shipping containers, it can be seen that small businesses renting the site are doing so affordably and the space is bringing more consumers into the area of Brixton as a whole. This creates more business for everyone and it all started with the innovate and creative use of containerisation.
It is astonishing what you can put into containers, everything you can think of: from shipping goods across continents to helping small businesses build their unique ideas. The shipping container, a simple invention intended to speed the loading and unloading of goods has played an important part in the changes of economies, culture, politics and environment, all of which is affected by globalisation.