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Pandemic has made shipping containers into hottest items globally

Some 18 months into the Covid-19 pandemic, global shipping is still in crisis, with backlogs looming over the Christmas shopping period. Also, it's clear that a return to normal for the market for steel shipping containers won't happen any time soon.

Before Covid hit, companies could rent a humble 20-foot or 40-foot box with relative ease, allowing them to move goods at a low cost. Containers have a lifespan of about 15 years before they're recycled into low-cost storage or building solutions. But empty boxes remain scattered across Europe and North America, while supply chain delays mean even more are needed to fulfill orders. Demand for goods, meanwhile, has soared — giving the network of ships, containers and trucks that deliver merchandise around the world little time to catch up.

As a result, containers have become incredibly scarce and extremely expensive. One year ago, companies would pay roughly $1,920 to book a 40-foot steel container on a standard route between China and Europe. Now, firms are spending more than $14,000, an increase of more than 600%. Meanwhile, the cost of buying a container outright has effectively doubled.

According to, businesses everywhere are struggling to cope. One point of friction is that a lot of the cargo going from Europe back to Asia is low-value materials like waste paper and scrap metal. As shipping prices have gone up, those trips aren't worth it anymore, leaving boxes stranded.

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