Think that stack of packing peanuts, tape and cardboard boxes you plan to use for your next move won’t do much damage to the environment?
If you multiply that by 35.9 million, the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2014 estimate of the number of Americans who changed residences in one year, that’s a scary amount of plastic, cardboard and Styrofoam piling up in landfills.
Here are nine ways to shrink your environmental footprint the next time you move.
1. Shop for a green mover.
“Our clients want professional movers, and that’s what we are first,” said John Flores, who owns Green Gorilla Movers in Austin, TX, with his wife, Sheila. “But we like to do the green thing, so we use that in our business.”
Green Gorilla uses biodiesel fuel, recycled from local restaurants’ used cooking oil that would otherwise go down the drain or into landfills for its trucks. Green Gorilla also uses eco-friendly packaging materials and zero-waste bins that can be reused hundreds of times.
2. Rent bins instead of using cardboard boxes.
Renting moving bins is a cheaper, faster alternative to using cardboard boxes, Rent A Green Box founder Spencer Brown said.
Rent A Green Box, based in Huntington, CA, mines local landfills and other waste sources, and then converts massive amounts of post-consumer trash into stackable, crush-proof moving bins, which can be delivered to customers and rented for up to two weeks. “We’ve rented as many as 10,000 bins for corporate moves,” Brown said.
One bin’s lifetime of 400 roundtrip uses will save 300 trees from being turned into cardboard.
The bins are designed to break down easily and get recycled again when they’re retired. “It’s a closed loop, cradle-to-cradle, zero waste,” Brown said.
3. Buy eco-friendly products with other uses.
Rent A Green Box’s Eco Mattress Bags, which Brown invented, are made of shrink wrap recycled from big-box stores and manufacturers. The bag has 21 alternative uses, such as a drop cloth for painting, a cover to protect plants and trees from the elements, a truck bed liner and car and boat dust cover.
Many of Rent a Green Box’s eco-friendly products can be used after the move, such as its compostable packing cubes made from recycled newspaper sludge. Once you’re finished moving, you turn a sheet of the cubes into seed-starting tray for a garden.
4. Pack with linens and towels instead of paper.
Affordable Storage in Fall River, MA, suggests packing decorative items or fragile pieces in your own towels, sheets, blankets, pillows and other cushion-like items to cut down on packing-paper and bubble-wrap waste. Restrict this method to short moves, since boxes will be jostled too much on cross-country trips.
5. Use biodegradable packing materials.
Green Gorilla uses compostable and biodegradable cellulose tape made from pure plant pulp, and Geami Greenwrap, which is cheaper than bubble wrap and offers more cushion. All of its reusable packing bins are made from fully recycled material, and the bins are recycled when they wear out.
6. Know where discarded junk will end up.
Don’t unwittingly let some guy with a truck drive your junk five miles down the road and dump it in the woods. Ask the junk removal company which items will go into the landfill or be recycled, and which ones will be taken to thrift stores.
E-Cycle Environmental in Seattle, WA, sends the wood it picks up to paper mills to be transformed into fuel, and sets usable furniture and other items out front for people to pick up.
7. Sell or donate stuff you don’t want to move.
Find local charities and schedule a free pickup at Donation Town’s website, which lists items that are acceptable or unacceptable as donations. Throw a garage sale or advertise items on Craigslist to raise some extra cash.
8. Go paperless.
Whenever possible, get estimates, invoices and anything move-related sent to you by email or text. “We’re a paperless company,” said Flores, whose company “plants a tree” for every move by donating to the Nature Conservancy’s Plant a Billion campaign.
9. Use earth-friendly cleaning products.
Clean with vinegar, lemon juice and baking soda, all natural ingredients that won’t hurt the environment. If you go the store-bought route, scan labels for biodegradable, non-toxic ingredients and attributes like “solvent-free” or “phosphate-free.” Avoid products that contain chlorine, ammonia or other harmful chemicals.