I blogged a while ago about how the shape of container ship had influenced the shape of the modern cruise ship. There’s some striking data on the long-term growth in global shipping traffic.

shipping containersAccording to David Edgerton’s The Shock of the Old, the world merchant fleet was rated at 553 million gross registered tonnes (GRT, a measure of capacity) in 2000. In 1914, it was 45 million; in 1950 85 million; and in 1970 227 million tonnes.

“It carried more material than ever before in history”, comments Edgerton, “and so cheaply that the price of manufactures was barely affected by freight rates”. The largest ships – as of 2000 – are 90,000 GRT, have a crew of 19, and can carry more than 8,000 containers.

The container was invented in the 1950s, the standard 40 foot container carries about 26 metric tonnes, and about 16 container ships now dock in the UK every day (so doing the sums, that’s a bit more than 3 million tonnes more stuff arriving in the UK every day, even allowing for a bit of slack in the packing, or something over one thousand million tonnes a year.)

As Alan Knight said in his presentation to the SDC’s sustainable retail event on Friday, if new houses were being added to the UK on that scale, there would have to be a planning enquiry. But because it’s stuff, it’s barely visible.