7 Ways to Reduce Waste When Packing & Moving

A very useful list of small-but-impactful swaps.

October  8, 2020
Photo by Rocky Luten

For many, this year has forced a decision to move homes—a need to downsize, a desire to escape from cities to the suburbs, or a yearning to move closer to family. As a newly minted college graduate, I recently decided to move out of my tiny Boston apartment back home to South Florida. It wasn’t until I actually began packing up that I realized I’ve never moved out of a fully stocked apartment before.

Standard practices of packing and moving have traditionally involved a slew of eco-unfriendly purchases. According to the EPA, paper and cardboard—trusty helpers during a move—were the largest component of municipal solid waste in 2017, while 69.9 percent of plastic containers and packaging in the same period were landfilled. Knowing what I did, one of my first questions to myself was: How can I make this move both efficient and more sustainable?

I decided I would make small changes that were still impactful, starting with donating or giving away almost every piece of furniture I didn’t need (or love enough to transport)—down to my last lamp—to friends or Bostonians on Facebook Marketplace. Next, I decided to avoid using single-use plastic packing supplies. Was I able to make the move completely sustainable? No, but I found ways to make a dent. Here are some eco-friendly lessons I learned along the way.

1. Donate or recycle what you don’t need

Before you start packing, sift through your clothes, kitchen items, and furniture and make piles or collections of what you no longer need. Locate services like OfferUp and Facebook Marketplace that help you sell furniture or homeware locally. Another option? Give them away. I had to cram my large dresser into the back of a friend’s car. Was it easy? Definitely not, but it felt good knowing my items were being reused. As for clothes, if they’re in good, usable condition, donate them to homeless shelters, Goodwill, or the Salvation Army.

If you plan to throw away old devices or batteries, remind yourself that e-waste causes terrible harm to the environment. Earth911 is a service that finds your nearest recycling location depending on the kind of battery you need to discard. You can also check out your nearest Best Buy (or other large-format electronic stores)—they allow you to bring in your old phones, chargers, and general gadgets, recycling them on your behalf.

2. Wrap fragile items in clothes and linens

This trick is as old as time but, trust me, it always works. Wrapping spoon rests, ceramic plates, and breakables in clothes or linens is the perfect replacement for bubble wrap. I even wrapped some of my wine glasses in thick winter socks, and they arrived on my doorstep unscathed. Be it towels, blankets, or clothes, cushion fragile items with what you already have before buying single-use supplies.

3. ….and pack loose items in totes and containers

Figuring out how to pack requires some out-of-the-box thinking—try to use containers you already have before purchasing moving supplies. When I moved, I packed my leftover kitchen spices in my tupperware and stuffed clothes into storage bins. For knickknacks and toiletries, I used tote bags (I always end up with more than I need) or cosmetic bags. Of course, at some point in the process, you may have to use plastic baggies, but consider reusable ziplocs or space bags for multi-uses. And remember to reuse them.

4. Ask your local stores for leftover boxes

It’s worth stopping in your local stores to see what boxes they have leftover to help reuse cardboard—not to mention, most stores would be happy to give them out for free. During my move, I got a few boxes from the liquor store across the street from my apartment at no cost.

5. Buy eco-friendly, biodegradable supplies

Let’s face it, moving is hard enough by itself. However, taking even one step to make the process more sustainable makes a difference. While I used some second-hand boxes, I still had to purchase new cardboard ones. The silver lining? They were foldable boxes that required no tape.

There are many sustainable alternatives to traditional packaging supplies. Before you buy standard packing peanuts, check out the biodegradable options found at U-Haul and local retailers like Walmart, which are made from potato starch and cornstarch instead of styrofoam.

6. Rent reusable moving boxes

Several moving companies offer rental services for reusable plastic boxes. Isn’t plastic harmful to the environment, you ask? Well, in this case, most companies use boxes made from recycled plastic that can be reused many times over, reducing landfill waste from single-use boxes.

An alternative to buying cardboard boxes, these services like U-Haul’s Ready-To-Go boxes, Frogbox, and BungoBox deliver to your old home and get picked up from your new one when you’re done.

7. Hire green moving companies

If you need a moving truck, seek out green moving companies that often use biodiesel fuel over conventional gasoline. Movegreen in Southern California and Green Van Lines in Texas, for instance, use hybrid vehicles, along with adopting other sustainable practices. If you’re moving locally and transporting items to your new place, consider options for making fewer trips back and forth to reduce emissions.

Have eco-friendly moving tips of your own? Share them with us in the comments below!

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  • Nancy Grigg
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Antonia is a lifestyle, food, and entertainment writer.


Nancy G. October 8, 2020
“donate them to homeless shelters like Goodwill” - huh?
Arati M. October 8, 2020
Thank you for catching that, Nancy!! That's fixed.