Packing for a Zero Waste Move, Part Two

Zero waste moving | Litterless

Last time I moved, I moved a mile. As the movers drove the truck from the old apartment to my new, I rode my bike to meet them. The night before, I’d filled a backpack and my arms with a few fragile items I didn’t want to pack and walked them over to the new place myself, which took all of thirty minutes round-trip.

I wrote about that move here. Much of what I wrote then rings true for this move, too.

But there are ways in which intra-city moves differ from inter-city moves. Tomorrow, I’m packing up and moving to a new state. This means that I can’t take advantage of my beloved rented reusable boxes to keep this move low-waste. Here, though, is what I have been doing, in case it’s helpful for planning a big move of your own:

-Start decluttering early. This is essential if you want to get unwanted items to the right places before you go. It’s tempting to leave everything until the week before the move, but slowly finding homes for things you want to donate over the course of a month or so gives things a better chance of being reused or recycled properly. More on the subject here and here, if you’re interested.

Zero waste moving | Litterless

-Use everything you have. Cut down on the packing materials you buy by letting other items serve as stand-ins where possible. I’m using cardboard boxes when I move, but I’m also filling wooden crates, wire baskets, suitcases, and backpacks. Depending on how you’re doing the moving, this might be more or less of an option for you. We’ve hired movers with a truck, and will be driving ourselves up to Madison in a car. Sealed cardboard boxes will go in the truck, while open crates or baskets will go in the car to ferry more fragile items, like the terra-cotta pots pictured above. Beyond makeshift boxes, clothing and linens can serve as packing materials for delicate items.

-Stock up on reused moving supplies. If you have the space, start gathering supplies a few months ahead of time. Save boxes that are shipped to your door, and beg them from friends, neighbors, and grocery stores. Put out a call for extra newspapers and packing papers. You can also search Craigslist, your local Buy Nothing Facebook group, or at local moving companies for secondhand moving boxes – many folks will let you have them for free just to take the boxes off their hands. The boxes I’m using are a combination gathered from friends and saved from deliveries. I’ve found myself with a few extra boxes after most of my packing is finished, so instead of jamming them into the communal recycling behind my apartment, I reached out to a friend who’s also moving this week to see if she could use any of them.

Zero waste moving | Litterless

-Use what you have first. As the saying goes, the most sustainable option is the thing you already own. I have a roll of plastic tape in my home, so I’m using that for this move rather than purchasing a new roll of paper tape just so I can check the box of “perfectly plastic-free move.” Next time I purchase a roll of tape, it will be a paper one, but for now I’m committed to using what I already have. Same goes for bubble wrap, packing peanuts, and other things typically anathema to the zero waster: if you happen to already have ‘em, use ‘em, then save them for a future move or pass them along for reuse or recycling.

(If you’re in the market for an alternative to plastic tape, a better choice might be paper tape or plastic tape purchased secondhand at your local creative reuse center).

-When in doubt, use more packing materials. I feel a push and pull between wanting to pack everything carefully and not wanting to use too many packing materials. If you, like me, are wavering between the two, a good rule of thumb I think is this: better to use more materials than to allow your objects to break in transit. A bottle of broken vinegar wastes the vinegar and the glass. A broken lamp might end up in the landfill, unable to be fixed or donated. A jar of olive oil that breaks can ruin everything underneath it. Broken ceramics aren’t recyclable, so if a plate or bowl breaks, to the landfill it likely goes. Choosing between a break and using some extra tape or newspapers becomes easier with that in mind.

-Post-move, reuse your packing materials before recycling. Though most moving supplies are recyclable, reusing them first is a much better option. You can use Craigslist, a Buy Nothing group, or a neighborhood forum to get the boxes to a new home. Or, if you know you’ll be moving again when your yearlong lease is up and you have the storage space, break down the boxes – or at least some of them – and tuck them away in a basement or storage spot to reuse yourself. (Having some in reserve can feel like a lifesaver when the close of the year feels like it comes sooner than you’d think).

Other tips to share? Catch you on the flip side (Madison!), folks. I'm taking some time away from here next week to get settled and tackle a few big projects - back soon!