With millions of shipping containers lying empty at ports around the world, it may seem like repurposing them to construct buildings would be a clear environmental winner. The reality of building with shipping containers is complicated, though, and in many cases isn’t a net-positive for the environment, critics charge, according to a report by NPR's Chloe Veltman.
Commonly, those building with containers choose newer units that have less wear and no dents. Some jurisdictions prohibit the use of containers that are damaged, that have been repaired, or that are older than two years.
Also, new units cost only $1,000 to $2,000 more than used containers—not a lot in the context of a budget for a major project. Critics say new units would be better served from an environmental standpoint by using them for their original intended purpose.
While repurposing old containers would give them a new life, they have poor thermal properties degrading any environmental benefit and building owners end up paying a lot for heating and cooling.
Given the pros and cons of container construction, critics argue that it would make more environmental sense to recycle them and use conventional construction methods for construction.