7 Tips For Making Your Move More Eco-Friendly

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I gather you’re moving soon? Exciting! Or should I say: I’m. So. Sorry.

Moving is the worst: exhausting, stressful, expensive. And that feeling of getting to the new place and finding all the things you took the trouble to pack, but can really do without [face palm].

We know a thing or two about the horrors: my husband and I have moved eight times now since we’ve been together (if you include moves for summer internships), and all but one was done on our own. Usually, there’s nothing you can do about the decision to move. But after you’ve seen the huge mounds of once-used boxes, plastic wrap, and paper; the bulky items sitting out by the dumpster for a week through rain and shine; and the thrown-away, perfectly good food because it can’t survive the heat of a move, you start to rethink the way it happens. We’ve always been on a tight budget with a minimal amount of stuff, so we haven’t been heavy users of bubble wrap or some of the other packing supplies, but we’ve definitely been between a full fridge and a garbage bag a time or two.

Nothing about moving is very sustainable. Our recent move is a case in point; the movers wanted to avoid any damage claims (understandably) and used a mountain of packing materials. After unpacking, we had to make three trips to the recycling center to get rid of all the paper and boxes used. In addition, we had just purchased a second car, and so had to drive two cars up in addition to the movers bringing the truck.

Moving contributes a huge amount of waste, emissions, and energy. They worst offenders are emissions from transportation (getting you and your stuff to the new place) and waste from packing materials. So if you’ve also become aware of the negative impact of moving and are willing to make a little extra effort, there are some simple things you can do to minimize your impact.

Start early.

Moving can be stressful, and when you’re down to the wire trying to get everything packed up and moved out before the deadline, the last thing you want to be doing is sorting and dropping off donations or collecting boxes. So start early. Start a “to donate” pile and have a target date for when you want to finish collecting and drop everything off. Start listing furniture you want to sell or give away several weeks before moving day. Collect your junk mail and newspapers to use as packing materials. Ask friends to save their boxes. Save yourself some stress by preparing early; it will help you get everything where it needs to go while not feeling frantic about that one more thing on your lengthy to-do list.

Plan for Perishables.

There are always a few bottles left at the back of the fridge or behind a box in the pantry that you didn’t finish before move day and end up having to throw out. Avoid a lot of these last-minute dumpster-fillers by cleaning out your fridge and pantry, then carefully planning meals to use as much as you can in the weeks before. As moving day creeps up, start checking with neighbors and friends who might want your leftover frozen berries or last onion (but please don’t hand out food that’s gone bad). If you’re driving to your destination, pack condiments and other keepers in a cooler with food for meals on the road.

Use what you have.

So much of what we already own has potential as great packing materials. You’ve got to pack it anyway, so why not use it to your advantage? Towels, blankets, hot pads, cloth bags, and old t-shirts can all be wrapping for more delicate items. Hampers, boxes and baskets don’t have to stop being useful during a move either; I’ve found sturdy hampers are especially good for keeping lamp shades in tact, and packing extremely delicate or fragile items like glass and ceramics into a smaller box before placing them in a larger one gives that much added protection. Using what you have before buying saves you space, money and a trip to the trash or recycling center later.

Beg and borrow for what you don’t have.

Ask friends if they have any boxes or packing materials you can use (in a world where Amazon exists, chances are good). Also try your local grocers or liquor store for boxes after a delivery; usually they are happy to let you take them off their hands and those boxes are usually reinforced for travel. And when you’re done with them, maybe someone else in your circle could use the boxes.

Rent reusable moving boxes

Yes, these exist! I only recently became aware of them, but reusable moving boxes are the ultimate eco-friendly move (pun intended). Companies like U-Haul, Bungo Box, Rent a Green Box, Rentacrate, Redi-Box, and Bin It rent out stacking plastic packing boxes for moves that you return when you’re done. These boxes are much sturdier than cardboard and weatherproof, not to mention low-waste. And many companies say you can save a substantial amount of cash renting vs. buying cardboard. Often, boxes have to be returned to their original location after a move, however, so this may be more in the realm of inner-city moves.

If you’re flying, fly non-stop and/or offset your emissions from flying.

Flying is a huge source of emissions. To give you an idea, one passenger on a roundtrip Delta flight from New York to San Francisco has a carbon footprint of .828 metric tons (or about 1826 pounds of carbon). United is similar, at .8618 metric tons. “For an American, that represents about one-eighteenth of your carbon emissions for the year.” according to The New York Times. Most of those emissions come from take off and landing, so flying non-stops cuts down a good portion of potential emissions. You can also offset your emissions from flying with a small donation that goes to organizations doing good environmental work. Google your airline’s name and “offset emissions” to find their carbon offset page with allows you to enter your flight and purchase carbon offsets. For the same NYC to SF flight, it only costs $12.42 to offset a Delta flight ($10.34 for United).

Tag team on the truck.

If you’re flexible and your possessions are more on the minimal side, consider shipping them in a larger truck that rents out extra space. We did this when we moved from Utah to Texas with Old Dominion. They parked the semi-truck trailer near our house for a day. We then loaded all our possessions into the 18’ of space we purchased. They picked up the truck, then picked up their regular load which filled the rest of the space, and drove their regular route down to Dallas. Once they'd delivered their load, they dropped the trailer at our apartment complex and allowed us to unload.

With or without us, the truck would still be making the drive, so we were filling space that would have been empty, and making the most out of the fuel that was already going to be used. We didn’t have to drive the big truck, and our possessions were secure in the front of the truck.

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Although moving isn’t inherently sustainable, by starting early, planning ahead, and making a few good decisions, you can make your move a little easier on the environment. And remember, at the end of the day, the most important thing is that you and your loved ones get where you’re going safely. Good luck with your plans! Do you have any other suggestions? 

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