Moving to a new place can be an exciting change, but it can be wasteful and polluting if you let it. We are talking about cardboard boxes, bubble wrap, and other packing materials that become useless as soon as you unpack. And the CO2 emissions from multiple trips, you don't want to add that to your carbon footprint.
Fortunately, there are several things you can do to ensure you move in a sustainable way. We share 10 of the best tips in this article.
Ordinarily, moving is not an eco-friendly process, and with over 40 million people moving each year2, the environmental impact adds up significantly.
Below are some of the environmental impacts moving can have.
Moving consumes a lot of single-use materials like tape, cardboard boxes, bubble wrap, etc. So precious forest and fossil fuel resources end up in landfills just like that. The USA generates over 67 million tons of paper and 35 million tons of plastic waste yearly1.
Another challenge is figuring out what to do with the belongings you want to avoid taking with you. A lot of times, people take the easy way out and just throw reusable and recyclable stuff away.
It is important to provide extra protection for your valuables during the move. People often wrap fragile items like porcelain and glass with bubble wrap. They may use plastic wraps to prevent furniture scratches as well. Most packing peanuts are made from plastic as well.
After unpacking, all that plastic will most likely end up in the trash because recycling options are rare for those types of plastics. After food, plastic is the second most abundant material in landfills.
Moving trucks use a lot of gasoline, meaning they emit a lot of CO2. Trucks are responsible for 32% of on-road greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. They also produce 69% of on-road particulate matter3.
Multiple trips or long-distance moves will generate significant emissions, but it's fine if you can't avoid them. However, in cases where a large truck is used to move a few boxes or a small truck is forced to take multiple trips, avoidable emissions are released.
Below are some tips for a clean and green move.
A zero-waste move doesn't just happen because moving can be hectic once you get into it. You may forget to make eco-friendly choices if you don't have a written plan to consult. So plan and check each action off your packing list as you go.
Planning all the trips related to your move to maximize full loads and prevent additional ones reduces your carbon footprint. If you include a complete list of your moving supplies, you can look for more sustainable alternatives and avoid unnecessary purchases.
Your plan should specify the order in which you want to pack your stuff and an inventory of items in each box to keep track of missing items. You should also inspect items for damages to determine if anything gets damaged during the move.
One of the arrangements you'll likely make while moving out is to hire a moving company. Even if you are moving to a place not so far away, you should get a moving van instead of taking several trips with your car. That would help you cut back on vehicle emissions.
Now, while it may seem like just any trustworthy firm will do, choosing a green moving company is much better for the planet. Eco-friendly moving companies take extra care to reduce waste and emissions. They take more efficient routes, use the right-sized trucks, and may use biodiesel fuel or electric vehicles rather than gasoline.
These moving companies may also supply their customers with reusable or recycled moving boxes.
Below are some popular green moving companies in the United States.
This moving company is based in New York City. Rabbit Movers are specialist art transporters and also offer regular moving services. They make stops to pick up or deliver items as customers request. That means you can move and drop off items you want to donate in fewer trips.
In partnership with Greenboxesplus, Rabbit Movers supplies customers with reusable rental bins. Their moving trucks run on biodiesel and use biodegradable bubble wrap to protect your fragile items.
Gentle Giant has branches all over the United States. They reuse moving boxes and packing supplies. To encourage customers to send used packing boxes back to them, they offer a $55 refund. They also recycle boxes that are too damaged for reuse.
Gentle Giant uses biodegradable foam peanuts and oxo-biodegradable bubble wrap. They make their boxes with at least 90% post-consumer recycled materials.
If you are moving out of Seattle, you should check out Eco Movers. Instead of wasting rolls of tape, they use large rubber bands to secure furniture. Also, they partner with Hiveboxx to provide rental moving boxes and tote bags.
Eco Movers plants one tree for every move they service. They also support the Conservation Northwest wildlife protection program and Seattle's Trees for Neighbourhoods program.
Other eco-friendly movers include Green Good, Ekomovers, and NorthStar Moving.
Before you go on a shopping spree for supplies you'll need to move, take a quick look around your house. You will find some items that you can improvise as packing material. You'll pack smarter, save money and eliminate waste without even trying.
Some items you can upcycle are containers you already have. Plastic containers, backpacks, suitcases, duffels, and storage bins can provide much packing space.
Instead of wrapping fragile items with bubble wrap, consider using your reusable kitchen towels, bath towels, pillows, blankets, and other soft items. Instead of styrofoam packing peanuts, shred up the old newspapers, magazines, and notebooks you intended to eliminate.
You can salvage packaging from deliveries you make during this time. Your junk mail, too, could be useful.
Although cardboard boxes can be eco-friendly, using them as single-use containers waste forest resources. If you must use cardboard boxes, ensure they are reused, recyclable, or reusable.
If you buy cardboard boxes, check to be sure they are FSC-certified and recyclable products. They should be durable enough for reuse as well. The downside is that paperboard boxes are easily damaged and may not stand up to repeated use. So it's best to get already used boxes.
You can get used cardboard boxes at local stores, supermarkets, and pharmacies for free. Many stores will be glad to have you take it off their hands. Start salvaging the boxes one to two months before your move. You'll get enough boxes that way.
Read more: Environmental Impact of Cardboard.
A longer-lasting alternative to paperboard boxes is to buy or rent reusable boxes. Usually, these are durable plastic or fabric boxes. They won't get damaged easily by water or heat. So you can reuse them for decades.
Some eco-friendly movers will offer reusable boxes. But companies like U-haul and Rentacrate offer all kinds of moving boxes, including heavy-duty moving crates, storage bins, and wardrobe boxes.
Renting a reusable box is cheap, but buying is the more sustainable and cost-effective alternative if you intend to move often.
Single-use plastic packing supplies like peanuts, plastic bags, and wraps are problematic. They are not easily recycled and contribute to plastic pollution.
Biodegradable bubble wrap and packing peanuts are available. They make them from cornstarch or potato starch. You should also replace plastic tape with paper tape.
Those materials decompose and don't cause harm to the environment when you throw them away. You can find biodegradable packing supplies online and in stores around you or through our eco-friendly packaging guide.
Decluttering is always a part of moving. You'll find old clothes, unused kitchenware, and a few odd items you don't want to take to your new place. You have a few options to dispose of them sustainably.
You can give out those items. They may not be useful to you, but they may be thoughtful and useful gifts to the family and friends you are leaving behind.
Also, consider donating these items to charities or a thrift store. You'll have to do some research to know where to donate what. But books, toys, and art supplies can be donated to schools, while clothes and shoes can go to Goodwill or the Salvation Army.
To earn some extra cash, sell the items. You can hold a yard sale or take pictures of the items and put them on the Facebook marketplace, eBay, or Craigslist. If you have a one-of-a-kind item, you can hold an auction on the Facebook marketplace.
Recycling is one more alternative you can try. Curbside recycling is possible for most items, but you can reach out to special recyclers like Terracycle easy to recycle items like electronics and other e-waste.
The final part of a green moving process is what you do with packing materials after you have unpacked. It's important to carefully consider this and approach it patiently because packing can rack up a lot of disposable materials.
Look for any reusable supplies and save them; you or someone you know may need them in the future. If you don't have storage space, donate your packing materials to local businesses that can use them as packaging materials.
Compost any compostable packaging material. You can send it to a composting facility if you don't want to do it at home. Lastly, send anything that can be recycled to a recycling center.
To keep your carbon footprint low, use a moving truck instead of air freight unless it's impossible to do so. That's because aircraft produce more emissions than trucks.
Your kitchen should be the last room you pack up. If you put all your spoons, cups, and plates in a box a week before you move, you'll have to eat off paper plates. And you know disposable cutleries are not eco-friendly and will dent your zero-waste move.
Whether you are moving for a new job or to be closer to loved ones, you'll have to take extra measures to ensure your move isn't hurting the earth. Moving sustainably supports a circular economy and promotes a healthy environment.
Who Is Moving and Why? Seven Questions About Residential Mobility. Riordan Frost, (2020, May 4). Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University.
Zeroing In on Zero-Emission Trucks (pdf). The Advanced Technology Truck Index: A U.S. ZET Inventory Report January 2022. Retrieved May 27, 2023.
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.