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World - The Pandemic Fueled a Boom in Empty Ghost Shipping Containers Traveling the High Seas

In our latest proof that global capitalism is extremely logical and efficient, hundreds of thousands of completely empty shipping containers are being transported overseas amid the pandemic, according to an analysis by Earther.

Sending cargo ships on trips across the world when they’re full is damaging enough to the climate as well as ocean ecosystems. But shipping empty containers is downright unconscionable given the scope of the crisis.

Using export data from U.S. Customs and Border Protections compiled by trader intelligence data firm Import Genius, Earther analyzed thousands of U.S. export records marked “empty container” shipped by Thor Joergensen A/S, a supplier based in Denmark whose largest customer is Maersk Logistics.

We found that in 2020, 668,086 empty containers were shipped to foreign ports around the world, 12 times more than in 2019. At the height of this empty container frenzy, in November 2020, 87,000 ghost containers were exported, 87 times more than at same time in 2019.

The wasteful practice is tied to online shopping habits that have popped up due to the pandemic. If you’ve found yourself doing way more online shopping this past year, you’re not alone. E-commerce grew an estimated 16.5% in 2020, churning out $3.9 trillion in sales globally. This has been great for Asian markets, especially China because people living in the U.S. are buying far more imported products than normal.

U.S. ports, however, haven’t been able to keep up with all those imports, especially because they are experiencing labor shortages due to covid-19 and state-mandated restrictions on gathering. With fewer workers around to unload and unpack all this cargo, a backlog of containers has been piling up.

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