R is for Reuse: Shipping Container Structures

It is often said that the first two components of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle are the most important of the three, and yet these two are often overlooked. Ever since it became popular to “go green,” recycling has been the main topic of green conversation and efforts, but in reality, it should be considered a last resort after all efforts have been made to reduce and reuse.

But after giving it some thought, it makes sense – recycling tends to be the easiest component of the three. To be honest, there are only so many crafts you can make out of old toilet paper rolls before you run out of motivation for the whole reuse thing and just start pitching recyclables into the blue bin. I’ve come across some innovative ways to reuse trash here and there, but most ideas tend to be more novelty than sustainable long-term solutions.

This is what makes me so excited about what architects and designers are doing these days to reuse discarded shipping crates that would otherwise go to waste. Shipping crates have caused somewhat of a problem over the years since the cost to melt and recycle the steel container is so high that it’s not worth the effort, and the cost to transport empty crates back to their origins is higher than the cost to just buy new ones. So they have been stacking up at ports for years, going unused and serving no purpose … until recently.

In 2006, the first official shipping container home was constructed in the US, re-purposing several shipping containers as the basic structure of the building. It was designed by California architect Peter DeMaria, and it created quite a buzz that prompted many designers to follow suit for their own building projects. It turns out, these steel containers are not only sturdy and extremely durable, they are also inexpensive to purchase and easily transportable, which means up to a 10% savings compared to the average from-scratch build.

Check out Upcycle Living, to see what a local shipping container company is doing right here in Arizona.

Image: This is a great example of “reuse.” This shipping container was created by architects Pieter Peelings and Silvia Mertens of Sculpt(IT). They live and work in this structure made of four shipping containers stacked on top of one another.

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