You see them stacked high and wide on container ships arriving in or departing from Montreal, and on container terminals in the port. They can be interchanged easily between ships, trains and trucks. They come in various colours – blue, orange, red, white, grey, etc. – emblazoned with shipping line logos, and are generally constructed of aluminum or steel.
They come in standard sizes, with the two most commonly used sizes today being 20-foot and 40-foot lengths. The 20-foot container is known as the Twenty-foot Equivalent Unit (TEU) and it has become the industry standard reference; cargo volume and vessel capacity are commonly measured in TEUs. The 40-foot-long container – equivalent to two TEUs – is the Forty-foot Equivalent Unit (FEU) and is the most frequently used container today. Some containers are climate controlled and typically used to move temperature sensitive products.
Each TEU or FEU has its own unique unit number that can be used to identify who owns the container or who is using it to ship goods, and to track its whereabouts anywhere in the world.
But what, exactly, moves in these mysterious boxes?
Well, pretty much anything and everything that we use or consume in our daily lives.
The Port of Montreal handled 1,447,566 TEUs in 2016. They carried everything from food products and fresh produce such as fruits and vegetables to electronic equipment and paper. Here are the main types of goods that moved in containers through the port in 2016:
• Foodstuffs: 2.34 million tonnes
• Forest products: 2.13 million tonnes
• Grains: 1.02 million tonnes
• Various metal products: 1.02 million tonnes
• Construction materials: 674,867 tonnes
• Iron and steel products: 645,853 tonnes
• Vehicles and accessories: 413,694 tonnes
• Chemical products: 353,465 tonnes
• Metal and non-metal ores: 237,030 tonnes
• Textile products: 179,927 tonnes
So, the next time you are enjoying a good meal or beverage, listening to music or watching television, working on your computer or getting dressed for the day or an evening out, take a moment to think about the fact that there is a good chance what you are consuming, using or wearing travelled across the seas in one of these shipping containers.