Parks upcycles cargo container for use by campers

In Tolt-MacDonald Park, near Carnation, campers now have the option of camping in a cargo box.

“I loved pulling materials out of the scrap bin to make something people would enjoy,” Jason Anglin, a carpenter with King County Parks, said. “It felt good to be this creative.”

This upcycled cargo container boasts radiant heat, LED lighting, a table and bench set, food storage, a futon bunk, and an outdoor fire pit. Upcycling is a form of reuse that aims to keep items from entering the waste stream when creating new products by reusing existing or scrap materials and reducing the use of new materials.

Cargo camper

King County Parks Project Manager, Sujata Goel, got the idea for the project after looking at cargo containers on her bus ride to work. She wanted to be able to upcycle the County’s scrap material but keep the project under $10,000, while giving users some unexpected comforts.

The project was sponsored by Skanska, Premier Spray Foam Insulation, TriVitro Corporation and Matson, Inc., the company that donated four containers for prototypes. In 2011 there was a competition for designing the interior, which was awarded to Seattle-based company, REtain. Those on the panel who selected the companies design included King County Executive Dow Constantine, Stone Gossard from Pearl Jam, wild life photographer Art Wolfe, Eric Corey Freed, Kim Muniza and others knowledgeable in architecture and sustainability.

The goal of the camper was that it had to be securable, durable, re-locatable, sustainable and affordable. The outfitted container received a score of 79, considered “platinum” from King County’s Sustainable Infrastructure Scorecard.

“There were many teaching moments along the way and this process was a new learning lesson for us,” said Bill Schwartz of Parks’ Capital Planning group. “One important lesson was that the use of surplus stock was just as time efficient as specifying new materials.”

Cargo camper inside 2Cargo camper inside

The container underwent a process to make it safely habitable for campers. The project team first ensured the container had not been sprayed with dangerous chemicals that are sometimes used in containers, and then scraped off lead paint and applied low VOC paints and finishes.

Since the cargo-camper resides on a campground where there are public amenities, there is no running water in the unit.

“The container itself was fantastic, we were comfortable in our bed with the heater. I love all the recycled material and the artsy touches with the concrete bench and the table,” said Amy Hacker the Cargo container’s first guest.

Currently, there’s a waiting list to use the camper, a sure sign of its popularity.

“I had many doubts but this worked out better than I expected,” said Park District Maintenance Coordinator Alan Sinsel. “We have a waiting list for camper use.”

Visit, or call 206-205-5434 to make reservations. Cost for an overnight stay is $50.

(Photo and quotes courtesy of Solid Waste Division’s Green Tools case study.)