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How to Move Sustainably

family moving
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Moving your life from one home to another is an inevitable part of life, but leaving a large carbon footprint when you move doesn’t have to be. While corporations bear the onus for producing the most greenhouse emissions, it’s our planet too, and every little bit of eco-friendliness helps. We’re familiar with the idea of reusable grocery bags and bamboo toothbrushes, but you can also make your next move sustainable.

Eco-friendly moving comes with its own questions. What packaging should you use? Should you hire a moving company? How do you avoid as much waste as possible? All of these questions are an important part of the “green move” discussion. If you are looking for eco-friendly tips on moving, here is a comprehensive list and guide to help you be as sustainable as possible.

Table of Contents

5 tips to help you have a green move

1. Plan everything ahead of time.

While seemingly obvious, this is a crucial part of the process of moving sustainably. Planning is proven to reduce waste and carbon output due to fewer uncoordinated trips between destinations. Furthermore, this foundational step keeps you from accidentally buying stuff you already have, eliminating a huge amount of waste. Make sure you pack everything ahead of time, label boxes correctly, and plan out your route to avoid unnecessary trips.

Planning doesn’t just mean being intentional about transportation or keeping a spreadsheet of belongings; it can also be as simple as starting to collect boxes in the weeks leading up to your move, or using boxes you have from a previous move.

Natalie Kay Smith, creator of Sustainably Chic also recommends saving your junk mail once you’ve decided to move, as well as any of the packing materials that come with your online orders.

2. Hire movers who care about the environment.

“If we want future generations to experience the same things we do, today, we have to start thinking about how we treat this planet day-to-day,” says Smith. While you may identify as eco-friendly, the true test is carrying that attitude into your move.

Are you going to move everything yourself with a dedicated team of volunteers? Or do you want to hire a moving company? If you’re looking for a professional company to help assist you in moving sustainably, make sure they practice what they preach. Look at reviews and their company website to understand how their process makes them more eco-friendly.

  • Gentle Giant offers you a refund to incentivize the return of their moving boxes
  • NorthStar Moving uses biodiesel in their truck fleet, a cleaner-burning alternative to diesel.
  • EkoMovers plants a tree for every customer served

3. Sell or donate goods you know you don’t need anymore before the move.

Be selective about what you know you will use in your new home. For anything you were thinking of throwing away, sell it for cheap, or donate instead. Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace are some of the easiest platforms to sell used goods on. Make sure you do this before the move so your move is lighter. You can also check out this guide on furniture donation.

4. Find eco-friendly packing supplies and habits

Send the peanuts packing

The finer points of moving sustainably come down to how you pack. This means steering away from styrofoam packing peanuts and plastic wrap especially. These single-use products are a huge contributor to waste in moving. There are plenty of biodegradable alternatives, such as newspaper or cornstarch peanuts, to ensure you are moving sustainably.

Use clothes as a cushion

Take your green move a step further and cut out biodegradable packing peanuts (which take energy to produce) altogether. Why not use your clothes and other soft items as a cushion? They are free, already at your disposal, and are a great way to make sure you are moving sustainably. If you are using a professional company, however, this is likely not an option.

Purchase or rent reusable boxes or bins

Yes, cardboard is recyclable, but if you’re treating it as single-use for your move, there are other options. Instead of relying on cardboard boxes, you could use suitcases and bags you already own. Or you could rent (or purchase) reusable boxes. While this can be initially more expensive, you can use these boxes for many moves to come. If you’re using a moving company, make sure they have some sort of reusable or recycling policy for all of their boxes or bins.

Pack up your kitchen last

People often don’t think of this, but make sure to pack up all of your kitchen goods last. If this is the first, second, or even third room you tackle, that leaves you relying on plastic cups, paper plates, and plastic utensils for a while. Make sure this is the last room you pack so you create as little food-related waste as possible.

Checklist of eco-friendly packing options

  • Cornstarch packing peanuts
  • newspaper
  • Suitcases
  • Drawers
  • Reusable bins
  • Clothes
  • Cardboard boxes from a previous move

5. Buy used goods for your new place!

Once you’re settled, it’s natural to come up with a list of new items you need to complete your home. A good way to ensure you are maintaining a green move is to purchase all of your goods used on sites like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, or at repurposing stores like the Habitat ReStore.

Make your new place green

When settling into your new place, make it as green as possible. Reduce water waste by getting a water-conserving showerhead, start composting food waste (if your HOA allows), and buy LED lights. The most eco-friendly moves are the ones that continue practicing sustainability beyond the move. You can also:

  • Use eco-paints when you decorate
  • Register for paperless utility bills
  • Make your own homemade cleaners
  • Buy energy-efficient appliances
  • Don’t run the faucet when washing dishes or brushing your teeth
  • Install solar panels
  • Clean the coils on your fridge
  • Invest in rechargeable batteries
  • Buy your homegoods from places like Thrive, recommends Smith
  • Smith also suggests you invest in zero-waste brands like Dropps or CleanCult
  • Start new, sustainable habits

Smith has found that grocery shopping is a great place to employ new eco-friendly habits. “Try to find produce not packaged, and always bring your own bags. Also, work on going paperless in the kitchen, and switch to reusable towels and napkins.” And, of course, shop with a reusable grocery bag.

But you can also develop sustainable habits when it comes to eating out. Smith herself dines with a tote full of reusable containers, silverware, cups, and napkins that she keeps in the car.

How to make sure you hire an eco-friendly moving company

If you are planning on hiring eco-friendly movers, it is important to make sure they have green practices. Eco-buzzwords are commonplace in marketing. Often, companies will claim sustainability to increase sales but practice a loose set of environmentally friendly guidelines.

Below are some important questions to ask any potential moving company before hiring:

5 questions to ask eco movers

1: Will you send me three references regarding the quality of work and sustainability of practices?

2: Do you use reusable boxes, bins, or containers?

3: Do you use biodegradable packing materials?

4: Do you do your best to take everything in one trip?

5: What else does your company do to ensure you are moving sustainably?

The bottom line on moving sustainably

It isn’t as hard as it sounds. There are a whole host of ways you can drastically reduce your waste and carbon footprint while hauling your life from one location to another. Whether you’re hiring a professional company or doing it yourself, follow these helpful tips for the greenest move possible.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

What alternatives can I use to moving boxes?

Using some of your already available packing space is the most innovative eco-friendly tip. Use suitcases, duffle bags, and other common household items to hold your stuff. If you need more than what is at your disposal, use plastic bins, recycled boxes, or boxes borrowed from friends. 

How do I find eco-friendly moving boxes?

Anything reused, such as plastic bins or previously used cardboard boxes, is eco-friendly. As long as you don’t purchase it new and throw it out after using it to move, you have found a sustainable alternative. 

How do I know if my moving company is eco-friendly? 

Ask the questions listed above to ensure the company you are using is eco-friendly and not just using eco-buzzwords as part of their marketing strategy.

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