Your car, your dishwasher, your laptop, your smartphone, your furniture, even the clothes you wear: unless it has been locally produced, it’s a safe bet to say that all these items sailed the seven seas before you bought them. It’s hardly a gamble, actually: more profitable than any other, ocean freight plays a key role in the global economy as 90% of goods produced around the globe transit through the sea.

Although every cargo ship pollutes as much as 50 million cars, ocean freight – which produces as much greenhouse gas as South Korea – was not subject to any greenhouse gas emissions target until recently. Fortunately, this anomaly was sorted out last April. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) – which depends upon the UN –, has found an agreement to reduce cargo ships emissions by 50 % from now to 2050.

The pollution of ocean freight

However, ocean freight causes a much more unexpected problem. Due to commercial balance unsteadiness, millions of containers coming from Asia clutter up North-American and European harbors because there is simply not enough freight to ship them back to their country of origin. As there is no industry capable of recycling them, 300 million containers were just put on garbage dumps where they slowly fall into disrepair.

Philip C. Clark was the first to take an interest in these millions of shipping containers. In 1987, he had the idea of transforming them into housing and, since then, the idea flourished. In Amsterdam, 3 000 students now live in student apartments made from containers. So do thousands of other students in London, Copenhagen, Le Havre, Lyon and many cities in the world.

But there’s more. Due to their shape and their material, shipping containers can be easily modified to fit many purposes. They are used as maquiladora workers accommodations in Ciudad Juarez (Mexico), TV studios (the BBC during the 2012 London Olympics), prison cells in Pas-de-Calais (France), private hockey rink in Maryland (US) but also pop-up stores, startup hubs, exhibition spaces, escape games, etc. And guess what! That is good news for the planet!

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