How to prepare for a more eco-friendly move

Portrait of family with two children moving out: mother and daughter busy sorting personal belongings in front of house while father and son taking out cardboard boxes to van outside

In the nearly seventeen years I’ve lived in the Boston area, I’ve moved seven times. That’s a lot of boxes, bubble wrap, and tape that I’ve gone through over the years.

While I shudder to think of all the unnecessary waste I created from those earlier moves — the endless runs to UHaul to purchase additional boxes and packing materials, stuffing unwanted items in the trash — over the years I’ve learned to consume less and less in the process.

Here are some of my top tips for reducing your waste and making your move to your new home as environmentally-friendly as possible.

Start collecting used boxes

It blows my mind that people buy brand new boxes. (And I say this as someone who also used to do that.) After all, how many of us order things online and then immediately toss the boxes into the recycling bin when they could easily be reused by someone else?

Assortment of cardboard boxes that are packed for a move

Besides, with all the associated expenses that come with moving, why waste your money on cardboard boxes? Instead of buying brand new boxes, start building a collection of gently used ones:

  • If you get any packages, hold onto larger boxes and/or packing materials that come in them
  • Look for listings in the free section of Craigslist
  • Post that you’re looking for it in your local Buy Nothing or Freecycle group
  • Ask your local liquor or grocery store if you can take any of theirs — I haven’t tried this one myself, but I’ve heard of other people doing this

Additionally, some companies, such as UHaul, have moving crates you can rent if you don’t mind the added expense and want to save time.

Use more eco-friendly packing materials

If you’re using cardboard boxes to pack your stuff for your moving, you’re going to need a lot of tape. Unfortunately the standard clear tape you’re likely to buy is probably made from prolypropolen or polyester (i.e. plastic).

You can get some really massive rolls of kraft packing tape with a rubber adhesive from EcoEnclose. Make sure you get the pressure-sensitive tape and not the water-activated one. I tried out both and while they both worked, the water-activated one was a pain since you have to wet each piece of tape to get it to work.

package with kraft tape and words "art wood" written on the side
Reusing packaging and kraft tape to wrap a piece of fragile art

And then there’s bubble wrap.

Unless you’re reusing it from something else (which I recommend you do if you happen to have any of it), you can probably avoid buying it entirely. Here are some alternatives to wrapping fragile items:

  • Use soft items you have in your house, including clothes, tablecloths, cloth napkins, curtains, and towels
  • Collect newspapers & magazine-style mailers from people
  • Reuse packaging from any packages you get in the mail (I have found that the packing materials from our Misfit boxes is also great for packing materials!)

Sort out items you don’t want to take on your move

As you prepare to move, it’s inevitable that you will come across a bunch of stuff that you no longer need or want.

While it’s tempting to just throw it all away, instead put aside those items that you don’t want to take with you to donate, sell, or give away. If you have the patience, start by selling higher-tickets items in good condition on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace.

(If you go with the latter, I recommend listing several things at once. If people look up one item, they might look to see what else you’re selling, which could save you a bunch of time.)

As I prepared for my most recent move, aside from the few items I sold, I listed a few items at a time for free on my local free giveaway groups. These were things in good condition that likely wouldn’t sell for very much but someone else could benefit from having.

Anything after that I donated to my local Goodwill or to More than Words, and Boston-area nonprofit that empowers that “empowers youth who are in the foster care system, court involved, homeless, or out of school to take charge of their lives by taking charge of a business” (and conveniently picked items up).

Blue Cradles to Crayons donation bin in a library entryway

Things that weren’t worth donating I first checked to see if I could somehow recycle. For example, many textiles (e.g. clothes, shoes, curtains) can be donated to certain organizations, who often sell them to companies that can reuse the raw materials.

I did my best to minimize how much stuff I threw away, but unfortunately at the end there were things that were either too gross, too broken, or simply weren’t able to be donated to recycled that had to be tossed.

Related: 4 questions to ask before you make a purchase

Here’s some additional tips for minimizing how you throw away before you move:

  • Buy Nothing, Freecycle, and/or Craigslist are all great places to give things away
  • If you’re in a more densely populated area you can put out items in front of your home and label them as free. If you live on a street that doesn’t naturally get many cars and/or foot traffic, also list it on the free section of Craigslist
  • If you donate to a place like Goodwill, only donate items that are in usable condition so you aren’t costing them money by adding to their trash bill
  • Some nonprofits, such as Big Brother/Big Sister, will allow you to schedule pickup. Each has specific items they will take, so be check their acceptable items first
  • Check to see if there are any local drop boxes that will take donations of textiles, books, and other items. Again, be mindful of the condition of the items you are donating

Look for envrionmentally-conscious movers

I’ll admit, I fell short here because we just used a moving company we had previously used. I was horrified when they unpacked the track to see how much stuff they had wrapped in plastic cellophane. (I did my best to collect it and bring it to a plastic bag recycling receptacle at Whole Foods, but I would’ve preferred to avoid it all together.)

Apparently Gentle Giant Movers, which happens to be based in my city, is a green moving company according to their website. (I have not spoken to them directly, so hopefully it isn’t a bunch of greenwashing there!)

After you move

Alright, you’ve moved, and now you have a giant stack of used boxes. Time to recycle them, right?

Nope!

Give away any boxes & packing material in good condition. I found it helpful to unpack a bunch of boxes and then list them in batches to get them out of my house relatively quickly. (I’ve had the most luck getting rid of boxes on Craigslist.)

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