China’s empties pile up on US east coast

HONG KONG, June 8 — As Maersk invests US$450 million in a new deep container port on the US coast, a Reuters report from Virginia points to a growing problem as Chinese imports rocket – what do to with the empty containers?

“The hundreds of empty containers stacked beside the rails near the Norfolk Southern Corp. Portlock rail yard in Chesapeake, Virginia, look ready to board ship here on the US East Coast and head back to China, but they are going nowhere,” says the story.

China, says Reuters, is shipping so many goods to the US that the Chinese often find it cheaper to build new containers with low-cost labour and leave their empty ones in the US than send them home empty.

“These containers are here to stay,” Portlock trainmaster Brian Stanley says in the article, pointing at the piles.
Economically it may be a smart move for China, but environmentally this is poor practice.

It costs 53GJ and 3.6 tonnes (4 tons) more iron ore to make a new steel container than to recycle an existing one, and only around 3GJ to transport an empty container back to China.

While for the “hundreds” of containers at Portlock the wastage may not be huge on a global shipping scale, such behaviour sets a bad example to the world and does not support China’s aims of a “sustainable and cyclical economy,” set out in its environmental status report published this week.

It is precisely such root-level inefficiencies China says it aims to stamp out with its Environmental Assesment Programme, which looks at all environmental impacts of energy, construction and industrial projects.

About James Ockenden (300 Articles)
Writer, journalist and sustainability consultant with a passion for clean technology and public health. 25 years covering power and energy markets: former editor of Power Plant Technology, International Power Generation, Asian Electricity, Aircraft Economics, Energy Risk, Asia Risk, Benchmark; writer for South China Morning Post, Cathay Dragon's Silkroad, APlus, Veolia's "Planet", Hong Kong Tatler; founder of Blue Skies China. MSocSc in Corporate Environmental Governance, University of Hong Kong; BA & MA degree in Natural Sciences (major in Materials Science & Metallurgy), Cambridge University.
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