By Nahuel Gerth, 2021
The shipping
1 Intro
Trucks carrying containers When was the last time you were driving behind a truck carrying a container?
And didn’t
you wonder:
What is inside
all of these containers?
Where do they come from? Where do they go?
Boxing clever The standard twenty-foot container is the basic measurement for worldwide shipping and trade today.
source: DEDOLA, 2011
It was introduced in 1961 as ISO/TC 104 by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). *
source: ISO, 2020
Today over 792M TEUs are shipped in one year*
source: World Bank, 2018
3 Standardization
A look into history Before this normed and uniformed system existed, shipping freight used to be a labor intensive, expensive and risky business.
The main problem was that each piece of cargo had to be loaded on a ship individually and each piece had its individual measurements.
Shipping Amphora,
Commonly used to hold oil,
late 3rd–mid-2nd century B.C.
source: Metropolitan Museum of Art
Longshoremen on a New York dock
loading barrels of corn syrup,
Lewis Hine, c. 1912
We haven’t seen much change over the centuries, and even the dock working culture in the 1950s and 60s still struggled with the same old problems.
Diversity of cargo goods of the Kipling on its way from Cardiff to Liverpool and Glasgow, 1960. *
source: Kemp & Young, 1971
Everything changed with the introduction of the normed system of intermodal container logistics that is still in use today.
4 Scaling up
Suddenly the world exports skyrocketed and a competitive game of mechanization, standardization and massive economies of scale evolved.
METTE MAERSK container ship sailing
under Danish flag. Constructed in
2015 with a capacity of 18,000 TEU.
source: Vesselfinder
Exports all over the world today are more than 40 times larger than in 1913.
This whole process of extraordinary growth and scale on an international level has exploded over the last centuries and can be referred to as globalization.
International trade growth from 1800–2014 measured in the value of global exports. * Time series of value of world exports at constant prices, relative to 1913. Values correspond to world export volumes indexed at 1913 = 100.
source: Federico and Tena-Junguito, 2016
Trade monopolies The three major container trade routes — Trans-Pacific, Europe-Asia-Europe and Transatlantic — are controlled by a small number of key players.
Their competitive race of arms produces bigger and bigger container ships each year with capacities of almost 24.000 TEUs per trip today.
Estimated container throughput on major trade routes in million TEUs, 2019. Trans-Pacific 30M
Europe-Asia-Europe 25M
Translatlantic 8M *
source: UNCTAD, 2019
Leading container ship operators in 2020, based on the number of ships in their fleets. *
source: Alphaliner, 2020
5 The East
Redistribution of global power This also resulted in an increased overseas trade of the West with the East. China suddenly rose as a major global player by offering cheap production methods for the West.
Over a short period of time China manifested as a new industrial super power.
Countries with the most TEUs passing through their ports in 2017 from land to sea and vice versa. *
source: Worldbank, 2017
But what is actually inside all of these containers?
6 Inside
A look inside the box The Port of Montreal handled a total of 1,447,566 TEUs in 2016.
They carried a range of products from food and fresh produce to electronic equipment and paper.
Pretty much anything and everything that we use or consume in our daily lives.
Types of goods moved in containers through the Port of Montreal in 2016. * Moved goods measured in tonnes.
source: Port of Montreal, 2016
Over 90% of the things surrounding you have been transported in a container *
source: Shipping container (Craig Martin), 2016
Anything you use, buy, consume — even the device you are watching this documentary on — was part of a worldwide logistical network of intermodal transport.
7 Synopsis
Containers everywhere Containers have become part of our lives and culture. They are used and repurposed in many ways.
Architectural container structures in Belfast,
United Kingdom and Copenhagen, Denmark.
source: Unsplash
source: Unsplash
Next time you see a container driving in front of you on a truck, think of it as one piece in a massive worldwide logistical system of transport, sales, economy and consumption.
Think of the container as a parable. Think of it as a physical manifestation.
A physical manifestation of our globalized world.
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