Shipping Container Count: How many Shipping Containers are there?

Shipping Container Count: How many Shipping Containers are there?

The Shipping Container has revolutionized the way we transport goods across the world. These standardized steel boxes have become the backbone of international trade, transporting everything from electronics to clothing, and even food. But have you ever wondered just how many of these unassuming containers are scattered across the globe? Here, we embark on a journey to uncover the fascinating world of shipping containers and attempt to answer the age-old question: how many shipping containers are there in the world?

The Humble Beginnings

To understand the scope of this global container network, we must first travel back in time to the mid-20th century. The concept of standardized containers was introduced by American entrepreneur Malcolm McLean in the 1950s. McLean’s vision was to create a seamless and efficient system for transporting cargo, and his invention laid the foundation for the modern container industry.

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The First Count

In the early days of containerization, there were only a few thousand containers in circulation. However, as the benefits of this innovative system became apparent, the number of containers exploded. By the 1970s, containerization was firmly established, and it was clear that these steel boxes were here to stay.

The Modern Container Era

Today, the global container fleet has grown to staggering proportions. According to the latest available data from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), as of 2020, there were approximately 34.8 million containers in circulation worldwide. This number is undoubtedly higher now, considering the continuous growth of global trade.

How Many Containers are There?

The question remains: how can we be certain of this astonishing figure? The answer lies in the meticulous tracking and registration of containers by various organizations and industry stakeholders. Each shipping container is assigned a unique identification number known as a Container Identification Number (CIN) or Container Prefix. These numbers are registered with the Bureau International des Containers (BIC), a global organization that maintains a database of container information.

Additionally, the largest shipping companies, such as Maersk, CMA CGM, and Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), also keep extensive records of their container fleets. These companies operate thousands of vessels and millions of containers, making them essential sources of data for tracking container counts.

The Impact of the Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on global trade and, by extension, the container industry. At the height of the pandemic, many containers were stranded in ports due to disruptions in the supply chain. This led to a temporary shortage of containers in certain regions, further emphasizing the importance of accurate container tracking and management.

Future Growth and Sustainability

The global container fleet is unlikely to stop growing anytime soon. As international trade continues to expand, more containers will be needed to meet the demand. However, the industry also faces challenges related to environmental sustainability. Efforts are being made to develop more eco-friendly container materials and improve container management practices to reduce waste and emissions.

Used Shipping Containers

Used shipping containers, once the unsung heroes of global trade, have found a second life in various innovative applications. From affordable housing to pop-up shops and even swimming pools, these durable steel boxes have become versatile building blocks. However, quantifying just how many used shipping containers exist worldwide is no easy task.

The Afterlife of Shipping Containers

Once containers reach the end of their life cycle in the shipping industry, they don’t simply vanish into thin air. Instead, they find new purposes in various sectors such as construction, architecture, and retail. Entrepreneurs and architects have harnessed the potential of these containers, transforming them into affordable housing, trendy bars, and even art installations.

How Many Used Shipping Containers are There?

Estimating the exact number of used shipping containers worldwide is a challenging task, given the decentralized nature of their repurposing. However, several factors and sources can provide us with insights into their prevalence:

Shipping Industry Records: The shipping industry keeps records of the containers it manufactures, sells, and retires. Though not always publicly available, this data can provide a baseline for understanding the numbers.

Container Resellers: Numerous companies specialize in selling used shipping containers. These businesses maintain inventory records and can offer an estimate of the containers they have in stock.

Government and Regulatory Agencies: Some countries and regions have regulations in place for container inspection, maintenance, and disposal. Data from these agencies can provide valuable information on container numbers.

Architectural and Construction Records: Architects and construction companies that use containers for their projects often keep records of the containers they purchase and repurpose.

Surveys and Research: Organizations, researchers, and academics interested in sustainability and container reuse may conduct surveys and research to estimate the number of used containers in various regions.

Challenges in Counting Used Containers

Several challenges complicate the task of determining the exact number of used shipping containers. These challenges include:

Variability in Repurposing: Containers are repurposed differently worldwide, making it challenging to track and count them consistently.

Lack of Centralized Data: There is no centralized authority or database tracking the afterlife of shipping containers, making it difficult to compile comprehensive statistics.

Varying Lifespans: The lifespan of a container can vary significantly depending on factors like maintenance, climate, and usage. This variability further complicates counting efforts.

The world of shipping containers is vast, with millions of these steel boxes crisscrossing the globe, carrying goods that sustain our modern way of life. While the exact number of containers may fluctuate due to economic and global events, one thing is certain: shipping containers have become an indispensable part of our interconnected world. Their continued growth and evolution will shape the future of global trade and logistics, and they will remain the unsung heroes of our modern economy.

Hard to Close Shipping Containers

Shipping containers are the workhorses of global trade and logistics, providing a secure and efficient means of transporting goods worldwide. While these containers are known for their durability and reliability, they can sometimes be hard to open or close.

Weathering the Elements

Shipping containers spend a significant portion of their lives exposed to the elements, whether on the high seas or in storage yards. Over time, the constant exposure to sun, rain, and temperature fluctuations can take a toll on the container’s exterior and locking mechanisms. Rust and corrosion can form on the container’s metal components, making them stiff and difficult to operate. This corrosion can make it a struggle to turn the handles or engage the locking bars, making the container hard to open or close securely.

Lack of Maintenance

Proper maintenance is crucial to keeping shipping containers in good working condition. Unfortunately, not all containers receive the regular maintenance they need. Containers that are neglected or abandoned may suffer from neglect, leading to issues with opening and closing. Without proper lubrication and care, hinges can become rusty, seals can degrade, and locking mechanisms can become jammed. Neglected containers often require more effort and tools to open, posing a significant challenge for those trying to access their contents.

Cargo Shifting

During transit, cargo can shift within the container, especially if it is not properly secured. When cargo shifts, it can exert pressure on the container’s walls and doors, causing them to become misaligned. This misalignment can make it difficult to open or close the container smoothly. In some cases, the doors may become jammed or wedged shut due to the pressure from the cargo inside.

Human Error

Sometimes, the difficulty in opening or closing a shipping container can be attributed to human error. If a container is not properly closed and locked, it may be challenging to open it later. Similarly, if someone tries to force the container open without following the correct procedures, it can lead to damage and make subsequent openings and closures problematic.


Equip operators with the proper tools needed and promote safety to help them avoid injury.

The OPNBar tool, for instance, can help avoid some injuries by providing an ergonomic means of opening shipping containers, checking for low-pressure tires, and aiding operators in releasing the tractor from the trailer.

This hand leverage tool / shipping container door extension handle uses the principles of leverage to do the difficult work. By providing an extended area on which to grasp, with both hands, a more stable platform to manipulate the latch handle is achieved.

Designed to fit and extend the door latch handles on side-by-side doors found on the following units with the safety of the truck driver, operator, and worker foremost in mind:

Standard Shipping Containers

  • Conex Boxes
  • Intermodal Containers
  • ISO Containers
  • Reefer Containers
  • Military Containers
  • Waste Management Containers
  • Dismountable Shipping Cargo Containers
  • Refrigerated Shipping Cargo Containers
  • Semitrailer Dry Freight Cargo Vans
  • Semitrailer Refrigerated Freight Cargo Vans

This intermodal container (also known as ISO Container, Conex Box, or Railroad Container) cargo inspection tool hand leverage tool / shipping container door extension handle is to aid in opening and closing side-by-side doors found within Dismountable Shipping Cargo Container Trailer Transportation Industries (Railroad, Harbor, and Trucking Industries).

Eliminates the Need for a crescent wrench, screwdriver, hammer, and crowbar which are commonly needed/used to open stuck shipping container doors.


While shipping containers are designed to be rugged and dependable, various factors can make them challenging to open or close. These challenges often stem from exposure to the elements, lack of maintenance, cargo shifting, and occasional human error. Proper care, regular maintenance, and adherence to best practices for container handling can go a long way in mitigating these difficulties and ensuring the smooth operation of shipping containers in the world of global trade and logistics.

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