Old ship­ping con­tain­ers re­new hopes, dreams

The Sun Times (Owen Sound) - - OPINION - CRAIG and MARC KIELBURGER Craig and Marc Kielburger are the co-founders of the WE move­ment, which in­cludes WE Char­ity, ME to WE So­cial En­ter­prise and WE Day. For more dis­patches from WE, check out WE Sto­ries.

Vis­it­ing Ghana a few years ago, Kevin Lee’s eye was cap­tured by some un­usual kiosks. Lo­cal ven­dors had cut win­dows and doors into aban­doned ship­ping con­tain­ers, and turned them into store­fronts.

“Cloth­iers, butch­ers, hair­dressers — each day fam­i­lies went into the con­tainer they rented to ply their trade,” re­calls Lee, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Scadding Court Com­mu­nity Cen­tre in Toronto.

Lee re­turned home to the huge, de­serted side­walks sur­round­ing his down­town com­mu­nity cen­tre and had an epiphany. He called up Storstac, a com­pany that up-cy­cles ship­ping con­tain­ers, and had two retro­fit­ted con­tain­ers plonked down out­side the cen­tre on Dun­das Street.

He then in­vited neigh­bour­hood en­trepreneurs who couldn’t af­ford a brick-and-mor­tar Toronto store­front to set up shop in the con­tain­ers for less than $25 a day.

Seven years and 15 con­tain­ers later, Scadding Court’s Mar­ket 707 is home to 23 busi­nesses, many owned by new Cana­di­ans and refugees, in a thriv­ing neigh­bour­hood hub.

Mar­ket 707 is a cre­ative new lease on life for these ubiq­ui­tous gi­ant con­tain­ers that might other­wise have gone to waste.

There are more than 17 mil­lion ship­ping con­tain­ers around the world, bring­ing us av­o­ca­dos from Mexico and smart­phones from China. Un­for­tu­nately, the wan­der­ing crates rarely re­turn home. It’s cheaper for man­u­fac­tur­ers to build new con­tain­ers for their goods than to send back old ones. Me­ga­tonnes of metal wind up rust­ing in dock­yards.

Like the ven­dors of Ghana, en­trepreneurs are us­ing ship­ping con­tain­ers like huge Lego blocks. They can be­come any­thing.

Re­tired from the sea, these crates also have found new life as li­braries and com­puter labs in de­vel­op­ing com­mu­ni­ties, and class­rooms in refugee camps.

While Hur­ri­cane Har­vey rav­aged Hous­ton, Texas, one lo­cal farmer’s veg­etable crop was able to with­stand the blow be­cause it was a hy­dro­ponic farm in a box, made by Bos­ton-based Freight Farms.

Con­tainer homes have been a fad for years now, and not just for ec­cen­tric hip­sters. Com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions such as Van­cou­ver’s Atira Women’s Re­source Cen­tre have found them a less-ex­pen­sive op­tion for so­cial hous­ing for marginal­ized and abused women.

Clinic in a Can, in Wi­chita, Kan., turns old con­tain­ers into mo­bile doc­tor’s of­fices, med­i­cal labs and even fully-equipped sur­gi­cal units. The pods can be quickly de­ployed to nat­u­ral dis­as­ter zones. Stick a bunch to­gether and you have an in­stant hos­pi­tal.

But as­pir­ing con­tainer en­trepreneurs be­ware: it’s not easy buy­ing one and mov­ing in.

Many con­tain­ers have been treated with lead paint or harm­ful chem­i­cals and must be cleaned. You’ll need doors, win­dows, in­su­la­tion, and special equip­ment for cer­tain uses. Up-cy­cling a con­tainer for stores, like in Mar­ket 707, can cost $20,000 to $30,000, says Storstac founder An­thony Rug­giero. But it can be worth the in­vest­ment. Even charg­ing in­cred­i­bly low rent, the Mar­ket 707 con­tain­ers paid for them­selves in just three years, Lee tells us. And they’re cre­at­ing eco­nomic op­por­tu­nity in the com­mu­nity while gen­er­at­ing rev­enue that funds Scadding Court’s re­cre­ation and af­ter-school pro­grams.

Moun­tains of old, rusted ship­ping con­tain­ers are a mon­u­ment to our in­sa­tiable de­sire for con­sumer goods and foods from abroad. Rein­car­na­tion means these metal boxes don’t go to waste.

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