Moving to a new place can be exciting and fun—but it can also be wasteful. You may find yourself buying rolls of bubble wrap and stacks of cardboard boxes in an effort to get all your belongings to your next home.
There are ways to make your move more sustainable. We spoke with experts about how to move while remaining eco-friendly.
How Does Moving Impact the Environment?
Moving requires throwing out loads of garbage, buying packing materials, and fueling trucks—none of which are good news for the environment.
When you’re decluttering, keep in mind that the United States generates around 292.4 million tons of trash in a year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Of those tons, 146.1 million end up in landfills. Meanwhile, the items people take with them are often protected with bubble wrap and packing peanuts, which can’t be put in traditional curbside recycling bins.
Transporting your belongings from your old home to your new one is a huge contributor to pollution, as it requires burning fossil fuels. According to the EPA, transportation produced 28% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2021—making it the largest contributor of emissions that year. Medium- and heavy-duty trucks—the types of vehicles most movers use—accounted for 23% of all transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions, making them the second-largest source next to light-duty trucks such as SUVs and minivans.
6 Steps to a More Eco-Friendly Move
Moving doesn’t have to involve a ton of trash, single-use supplies, or harsh emissions. Take these six steps to ensure a more sustainable moving experience.
Step 1: Acquire Used Boxes
Packing your house requires lots of boxes, but you don’t have to buy them all brand-new. A more eco-friendly approach is to use boxes that you and your friends, coworkers, and family members have saved from previous moves or packages.
Create a post requesting boxes on social media platforms, such as your neighborhood’s Facebook group. You can also join The Freecycle Network and the Buy Nothing Project—organizations through which individuals can give and receive free items—to see if anyone has boxes to donate. Local businesses, such as liquor stores and supermarkets, may also have boxes customers can take for free.
Start hunting for boxes as soon as possible. It may take several weeks to collect enough suitable options.
Step 2: Declutter and Downsize
Before you pack, decide what you no longer need. “Start downsizing so you don’t spend time or money to move things you don’t need,” says Jessian Choy (a.k.a. Ms. Green), advice columnist for Sierra magazine. Less stuff means fewer packing supplies and potentially a smaller moving truck. Plus, when you donate or sell unwanted items, others can purchase or receive them secondhand, which is more sustainable than buying them new.
Start by considering whether each item is worth packing, moving, and unpacking. You may want to get rid of clothes that don’t fit, barely used kitchen utensils, and mismatched furniture. Once you’ve decided which items you won’t keep, divide them by condition. For example, you could create categories such as “brand-new” and “well-worn.”
You can then list valuable items on resale websites such as eBay or Poshmark, host a garage sale, or donate the items to charitable organizations. If there are any items you can’t donate or sell, try to recycle them.
If you’re discarding a large number of items or parting with bulky furniture, you may consider hiring a junk removal service. However, ensure the company employs sustainable practices. “When researching junk removal companies, ask about what they do with everything,” says Eleanor Greene, editor-in-chief of Green American. Some companies might haul everything away to a landfill, while others donate what they can to local nonprofits.
Step 3: Limit Single-Use Packing Materials
If you must buy packing supplies, choose eco-friendly items, such as recyclable cardboard boxes, biodegradable packing peanuts, and reusable materials.
“Reusable bins are the biggest moving hack,” says Matt Graber, co-owner of Cool Hand Movers, a New York City-based moving company. “Boxes are only as sturdy as they’re built. They’re also susceptible to moisture and generate waste,” he says. While cardboard boxes are easily damaged and not designed for long-term use, plastic bins are durable and reusable for years.
Also, try packing creatively to reduce your consumption of single-use supplies. Use towels, T-shirts, and newspapers instead of styrofoam peanuts, and wrap your delicate items in clothing. For soft, non-fragile items, opt for backpacks, suitcases, and gym bags instead of moving boxes.
Step 4: Choose Sustainable Transportation
Because the transition from gas-powered to electric vehicles (EVs) is slow, finding a moving company that only uses electric vans or trucks is unrealistic. However, you can opt for a company that prioritizes sustainable practices. For example, ask if the company powers its trucks with biodiesel, which is less toxic than regular diesel.
If you only have a few items or are moving locally, you may be able to rent an electric van yourself and hire moving labor separately. Penske, for example, rents out electric high-roof cargo vans, and Ryder is also adding more electric vehicles to its rental fleets. If you can’t find an EV but still wish to rent a vehicle, ensure you pack the moving van efficiently. This will reduce the number of trips you must take and, therefore, the amount of gas you use.
Step 5: Reduce Waste When Unpacking
When it’s time to unpack, examine your moving supplies and see if you can reuse any disposable packing materials. Consider keeping boxes and padding for the next time you have to ship something; you can also place boxes underneath mulch in your garden to prevent weeds.
If you still have moving boxes you don’t need, donate them to someone who does. You can use the same social media platforms and websites you used to get your boxes in the first place.
Step 6: Purchase Environmentally Friendly Appliances
If you need to buy appliances for your new home, find ones that are certified as energy efficient. Appliances with ENERGY STAR certification meet strict criteria set by the EPA or the U.S. Department of Energy. These appliances won’t just save you money on your monthly power bill but will also help the environment by using significantly less energy than traditional appliances and reducing harmful emissions.
Moving is expensive, so luckily, there are ways to save on eco-friendly appliances. Thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act, you can receive a rebate of up to $14,000 when you upgrade your household to electric appliances, including electric induction stoves, clothes dryers, heat-pump water heaters, and more. Note that this rebate is only available to households that earn less than 150% of their area’s median income. Households that earn between 80% and 150% can claim rebates for as much as 50% of the cost of home electrification projects; those that earn below 80% can claim rebates for the full cost of qualified electrification projects.
9 Sustainable Moving Companies and Organizations to Watch in 2023
Some companies and organizations specialize in eco-friendly moving and reducing your carbon footprint. Here are nine to check out before you move.
Atlas Van Lines
Atlas Van Lines is a family of companies headquartered in Evansville, Indiana. It started Atlas’ Sustainable Agent program, which engages 350 interstate moving agents in the United States and Canada in its sustainability efforts to meet environmental standards while moving. “Two levels of certification are currently offered, which are both organized around five key focus areas including materials management, transportation, administration, facilities, and community,” says Mary Beth Johnson, vice president of business development at Atlas.
Cool Hand Movers
New York-based moving company Cool Hand Movers services the five boroughs and surrounding areas. The company lets customers rent reusable bins to use in place of cardboard boxes. Movers will drop off and pick up these boxes at your home, so you don’t have to worry about buying new boxes and recycling them later.
Cool Hand Movers also owns BoxUp Rental, a service for renting reusable moving boxes and other sustainable moving supplies. The company can give you an estimate of how many supplies you will need, or you can put in a custom order.
Seattle-based company Eco Movers is committed to helping people move while practicing eco-friendly strategies. It offers both local and long-distance moves as well as optional packing help. Eco Movers strives to use recycled materials and other sustainable items, such as rubber bands instead of regular packing tape.
Headquartered in Winchester, Massachusetts, Gentle Giant Moving Company has more than 20 locations nationwide and provides local and long-distance moving services. As a self-described “green moving company,” Gentle Giant uses electric vehicles, solar panels, and other sustainable items in its business.
Good Green Moving Company
Good Green Moving is a sustainable moving company that uses recycled vegetable biodiesel, organic uniforms with water-based inks, and locally sourced supplies. Its mission is to minimize its carbon footprint while giving back to the global community. It uses 100% deep green electricity from Marin Clean Energy to power its facility as well as paperless billing and receipts. The company is based in San Francisco and offers both local and long-distance moves.
Green America is an organization promoting eco-friendly practices and helping consumers support sustainable businesses. You can use its website to find businesses that meet your needs and consider the environment.
Move for Hunger
Move for Hunger is a network of socially responsible relocation companies that allows people to donate food when they move. You can set out your nonperishable food items in front of your house and have volunteers pick them up and donate them to a local food bank.
Brooklyn-based moving company Rabbit Movers employs artists and other creatives to handle interstate and local moves throughout the New York tri-state area and along the East Coast. Its green initiatives include offering reusable bins instead of cardboard moving boxes, using biodegradable bubble wrap, and powering its vehicles with biodiesel fuel.
Sierra Club is an environmental organization with millions of members and supporters. It aims to protect every person’s right to access nature and promotes the need for clean energy, wildlife protection, and more.
Moving Tips From the Experts
Moving can be stressful. Check out the following advice directly from experts to make your move smoother.
Pack Your Vehicle Efficiently
The gas mileage on moving vehicles is often not ideal, according to Greene. Because of this, she advises paying close attention to how you pack your van or truck.
“If you are packing your own vehicles, making it all fit in the smallest space and avoiding multiple trips is key,” Greene says.
Use Reusable Bins
Like cardboard boxes, reusable moving bins are fully recyclable, but they can get years of use before they’re recycled into new bins, says Matt Graber.
“Reusable moving bins can also save money—companies should charge less to pack moving bins than cardboard boxes because they don’t have to spend time building them on site,” Ashley Graber, co-owner of Cool Hand Movers, adds.
Research Your Movers
You’re trusting a moving company with nearly all your possessions when you move. Johnson advises you to visit the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Protect Your Move website to verify the movers you’re considering are properly licensed through the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).
Then, research the contents coverage each moving company offers and consider choosing the most comprehensive option. You’ll also want to keep track of your items’ conditions. “Take photos of the contents before packing your belongings and keep a detailed inventory of your assets so they can be accounted for at the end of the move,” Johnson says.
Moving is often extremely wasteful, but you can take steps to make the process more eco-friendly. Planning ahead, decluttering, and downsizing can help reduce trash. Using sustainable packing supplies, such as reusable bins and biodegradable padding materials, is also key to making your move more sustainable. Finally, consider transporting belongings in an electric or biodiesel-powered vehicle to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Educating yourself via companies and organizations that specialize in eco-friendly moving will ensure you’re taking the environment into account as you transition to your new home.
Eleanor Greene: Eleanor Greene is the editor-in-chief of Green American, the official magazine of Green America, which covers food, climate, labor, finance, green living, and social justice. She has been addressing readers’ green living questions for seven years via Green American and Your Green Life publications.
Jessian Choy: Jessian Choy writes for Sierra Magazine’s Ask Ms. Green column and is a regular guest on Sierra Club’s podcasts. Choy also serves on the board of Food Empowerment Project and Earth Island.
Mary Beth Johnson: As vice president of business development for moving company Atlas Van Lines, Mary Beth Johnson has more than 40 years of experience working with Atlas clients for their personal moves and corporate relocations.
Matt Graber: Matt Graber and his wife Ashley own NYC-based moving company Cool Hand Movers. They offer moving, packing, and reusable moving bin services throughout the Greater New York City area. The company was on New York Magazine‘s 2022 list of the best movers in New York City.