The Diversity of Dry Cargo Containers: A Guide to Types, Sizes, and Commodities


The Diversity of Dry Cargo Containers: A Guide to Types, Sizes, and Commodities


Including commodities such as coal, metals, and grain, dry cargo is classed as goods that are not liquid and can be shipped in normal ISO containers or ships' holds.

Depending on the type of commodity, the size of shipment, or the size of the cargo, different types of dry shipping containers may be used in order to preserve the integrity of your cargo and maximise space efficiency. Certain dry cargo freight containers, such as flat rack containers (used for project cargo), can also help facilitate specialised handling for cargo that doesn’t fit the dimensions of standard containers.

Ultimately, the diversity of dry cargo containers allows for a tailored approach to shipping and helps ensure that your goods will reach their specific destination as safely and efficiently as possible.

The ISO standard also provides guidelines used to assign each container a unique marking for easier identification. The ISO standard consists of three parts; the ISO 6346 (BIC) code, the size and type of the container, and the relevant additional codes.

The ISO 6346 (BIC) code is what identifies the owner of the container and the product group and is unique for each freight container. It starts with 3 letters which is the owner code (and is registered with the Bureau International des Containers et du Transport Intermodal) followed by a specific serial number and check digit that helps to identify the container.

Another more obvious way of identifying the different types of cargo container types is by colour. Each colour denotes a different meaning, such as whether it’s one-time use, or if the container is used for round trips. The colour of dry cargo containers can also help identify the type of cargo being transported. For example, white containers are often associated with reefer cargo, red containers with hazardous materials, and grey containers for military or government equipment. Finally, colours contribute to brand association: for example, MSC containers are yellow.

Establishing the Crucial Carrying Capacities of Dry Shipping Containers

The load carrying capacity of intermodal dry freight containers is measured by TEUs (Twenty-foot Equivalent Units). Each TEU refers to the amount of cargo that one 20 feet long container with a breadth of eight feet can hold within itself. Understanding the carrying capacity of containers using TEUs is essential for intermodal compatibility, optimising cargo handling, and enhancing the efficiency of logistics and transportation systems.

While there might be slight differences in these containers depending on the manufacturer, at MSC our standard dry cargo containers are specified in the following way:




40ft HC













Tare weight




Maximum payload




Cubic capacity

33.2 m3

67,7 m3



These containers are standardised by ISO as suitable for multiple transportation methods including truck, rail, or ship and are used to transport a variety of commodities such as automotive, agricultural, and retail products as well as grains and construction materials that do not need refrigeration.

Easy Unloading: Half Height Containers Unveiled

In some instances, there may be benefits to shipping using a different type of dry shipping container. For example, for businesses needing to ship goods like coal or stones, it could be worthwhile using a half-height container. Made primarily from steel these containers are half the height of full-sized 20ft or 40ft containers and make it easier to load and unload certain types of cargo.

Check with your carrier about the availability of half-height containers.

Easier Loading Logistics: Double- Door and Tunnel Containers Unpacked

Designed to aid loading and unloading materials by creating a wider space, double- door containers are made using materials such as steel or iron and come in standard sizes of 20 and 40ft.

Similarly, tunnel containers are a type of dry freight container that have doors at both ends of the container, helping to load and unload materials quickly.


Whether you’re looking to ship agricultural products, textiles, or construction materials, speak to one of our expert advisors at MSC. Not only do we have all standard 40 and 20dv containers as well as open-top and flat rack containers, but also the scale and experience to help ensure that your dry cargo arrives at its final destination quickly and safely. Contact us today to find out more.

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