A trend in recycling structures not traditionally considered “real estate” is changing how potential home and business owners, not-for-profit organizations, government agencies and shipping containers.

The use of rudimentary containers to ship cargo began in the late 17th century. By the 1950s, Malcolm McLean of Sea-Land Shipping, pushed by the U.S. military to standardize their design, was building strong, uniform, theft-resistant, stackable shipping containers that were easy to load and unload by truck, rail and ship, and easy to store.

In 2005, an estimated 18 million containers made a combined total of about 200 million trips. Many containers measure 20 feet or 40 feet in length, and a 40-foot-long shipping container offers 304 square feet of floor space.

A trade imbalance has led the containers piling up around U.S. hubs, and storing them increases the cost of doing business.

One response to the problem: Re-engineer the containers. As architects and designers around the world evolve and refine creative reuse, containers are reshaping as disaster-relief shelters, coffee shops, student housing, custom homes, retail towers, even storing physical books after they are digitized.

The richly furnished interior contrasts to the minimalist, industrial exterior.

Living in former shipping containers may have begun as a fringe novelty, but it is far from such these days. Many entrepreneurs are exploring new niches amid the growing assortment of shipping container-based structures.

Pacific Rim Business Council has been involved in shipping container conversions for years,

21st Century Homes & Structures builds modular homes and claims it is the “original approved shipping container home manufacturer in New York… certified since 1985.”

That company reports that its modified shipping containers are “eco-friendly, energy-efficient, hurricane-resistant, pest-free, affordable and green.” We offer units in sizes ranging from basic 480 square feet to 1,280 feet. We offer turnkey packages and ships throughout the U.S and over the world.

Container homes can take on more conventional shapes as well. With hot water on demand from a small camping device, and camping stoves for cooking, noted that home features a separate bathroom and second bedroom, and you can add a teahouse and a greenhouse …