Moving to a new home can be tough on the environment: Gas-guzzling moving trucks generate greenhouse gases, and piles of leftover boxes, discarded furniture, appliances, and other possessions can end up bound for the landfill.
MoveBuddha, a digital platform that lets consumers compare moving options, estimates that Americans who are relocating purchase 900 million cardboard boxes and throw out 8.4 million tons of junk each year.
Ashlee Piper, sustainability expert and author of “Give A Sh*t: Do Good. Live Better. Save the Planet,” says that moving is the time that people throw out more things than ever, often without thinking about where it’s all going.
“You’re going to see more large pieces of furniture, mattresses, and full food containers go to landfills…that people might otherwise take the time to recycle or repurpose,” she says, attributing the lapse in sustainable behaviors to the “frenzy” that is moving.
When You're Using a Moving Company
Justin Clarey and his wife are owners of a Two Men and a Truck moving company franchise in Columbus, Ohio. In early May, he started driving a truck that was destined for the junkyard but was converted to run on electricity as part of a pilot program that converts diesel freight trucks into EVs with funding from Clean Fuels Ohio, the U.S. Department of Energy, and others.
“We’re excited about being a pioneer in the electric truck world to see if it works in our industry.” Clarey says. “So far so good. We have found a sweet spot of about 100-110 miles a day out of a full charge, depending on the load.”
While EV freight trucks may be relatively rare, some eco-friendly moving companies fuel their trucks with biodiesel, which burns cleaner than regular diesel and can reduce the greenhouse gas emissions generated by a move. Clarey says his team also cuts down on the number of abandoned belongings going to landfills by donating any usable furniture or other items left behind to families in need.
Cans and boxes of nonperishable food are another thing many Americans who are moving leave behind (moveBuddha estimates 345,000 tons of food gets tossed annually by movers). Move for Hunger, a nonprofit working to reduce food waste, has partnered with 1,100 apartment complexes and moving companies nationwide, including Mayflower Transit, and donated 27 million pounds of food, or 22 million meals, to local food shelters since they started 13 years ago.
To find an eco-friendly mover ask a moving company you’re considering hiring the following questions:
- Does the company use trucks that run on biodiesel or electricity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?
- Does the company participate in SmartWay, an EPA program to help businesses become more sustainable?
- Does the company offer any recycling services for items discarded in the move?
- Does the company collaborate with any local nonprofits to donate furniture, clothing, or food clients leave behind?
- Does the company offer alternatives to cardboard boxes or offer a box recycling or reuse service?
- What long-term sustainability goals has the company committed to?
When You're Doing the Move on Your Own
Moving on your own is a big job, but it gives you more control over every aspect of how your move impacts the environment.
Use Reusable Bags or Bins Instead of Boxes
Ashley Duarte and her partner Drew Milbrath say they felt guilty for all of the bubble wrap and boxes they used in past moves. So, when they relocated from Chicago to Denver in April, they were determined to make their DIY move greener. Instead of cardboard boxes, they used heavy-duty moving bags and heavy-duty totes that they could then reuse or pass on to others.
“The moving bags worked perfectly and they’ve been reused many times,” Duarte says, adding that they continue to use them to store and transport belongings. “The totes were much cheaper and a few of the strap handles broke when we lifted them,” she says. “But I can easily see them being reused as a large duffle.”
Moving containers are also available for rent. Piper says she uses her own suitcases as moving containers and also hired a service called Redi Box during her last move: “I paid about $100 for a rental service to drop off around 25 big, really heavy-duty plastic containers with lids and labels,” she says. The service also picked them back up at a set time after the move.
If you must use cardboard boxes, visit a local pharmacy, supermarket, big-box store, or warehouse club for free boxes that you can reuse to reduce the number that end up in landfills. You can also look for used boxes, bags, containers, and other packing needs on your local Buy/Sell/Trade or Buy Nothing Facebook groups.
Duarte says she skipped the packing materials for her most recent move, opting instead to wrap dishes and other breakables in clothes and towels, a practice Piper also recommends. Uhaul offers customers a wide range of eco-friendly packing materials, and reminds clients stemware can be snugly packed in socks.
Reduce What You Leave Behind
Piper says that many people use moving as an opportunity to decide which of their belongings they’re going to keep and which will they’ll sell, donate, or otherwise discard. This makes moving days a moment of opportunity: Whittling down possessions ahead of time can also result in a cheaper move.
You can donate unwanted but usable belongings to people who need them through the Freecycle Network, or on your local Buy Nothing Facebook group or using the BuyNothing app. You can also turn to charities, including the Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, Goodwill, and AMVETS National Service Foundation. Some charities will not accept mattress donations, but Donation Town will help you find one that will, as well as locating charities for all of your unwanted belongings. It also offers pickup service.
For items you want to sell, use Facebook Marketplace or, for more exposure, List Perfectly, which allows you to crosspost items in a variety of online marketplaces all at once.
If you don’t have the time or desire to sell or donate your belongings, companies such as the Junkluggers partner with local charities and recycling centers and will donate, recycle, and repurpose your unwanted stuff for a fee.
“We are striving to eliminate 100 percent of waste from landfills by the year 2025,” says Kristy Ferguson, chief marketing officer at the Junkluggers. (Even if you’re not moving, you can hire them to clean out your attic or basement or remove bulky items.) Some Junkluggers locations also provide moving services.
To reduce food waste, plan meals to incorporate perishables in the days leading up to your move (mac and cheese with ground beef and some old frozen spinach, anyone?). And even if you aren’t a composter, Piper says some areas have composting services that will pick up fruits and vegetables that are past their prime or that you’re unable to use. If one of these is not available, you can often drop off composting scraps at a local farmers market.
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