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All About Containers

Updated: Sep 4, 2023

Containers and container ships revolutionized shipping and facilitated globalization. Standardization of container size significantly improved the efficiency of processing. Containers are usually identified by their lengths. The ten-foot container, twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU), and forty-foot equivalent unit (FEU) are the most common sizes of containers. The three lengths also come with a height of 9'6" rather than the standard 8'6", these are called 'high cube' containers. Here are the basic stats for each size (there may be slight variances between manufacturers)

10' Container

20' Container (TEU)

40' Container (FEU)

Tare Weight

3,500 lbs

5,015 lbs

8,377 lbs


30,000 lbs

48,600 lbs

80,350 lbs

Cubic Capacity

582 cu.ft.

1,164 cu.ft.

2376 cu.ft.













Because containers are used at sea, the materials have to be marine grade. The type of steel used in containers is called corten steel. Corten steel is an alloy used for the corrugated walls, frame cross members, and cargo doors. Treated marine-grade plywood (usually made of hardwood) may be used for the flooring.


Now that we talked about the size of containers, you may be wondering about how much it costs to ship a container. Unless you are a very large company, you will likely be a price taker in the shipping market (though you still have options and strategies to reduce your costs). There are container price indices that give you general price levels and also more granular indices that track common shipping routes. Drewry and Freightos are two paid subscription services that can provide you with price data. To give you a general idea, an aggregate index of common routes for FEUs hovered under $2000.00 in the 5 years preceding the COVID-19 pandemic but it spiked up to above $10,000 at its peak during the pandemic. Freight rates for individual shipping routes vary according to distance and demand. For instance, shipping containers from the North American west coast to Asia's east coast can be a third of the cost of shipping the other way around because of demand.


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