Greening your next move

Whether it's moving to college, an apartment, a house or a condo, most of us change our place of residence at least a handful of times during our lives.

Moving can be exciting, stressful, fun, challenging, and rewarding. It can also be expensive and time-consuming and can generate waste, pollution and greenhouse gasses.

Here are some ideas to help make your next move eco-friendly, not eco-wasteful.

Lighten the load

Paring down possessions before a move not only saves our backs and knees, it also has earth-friendly benefits! Less stuff means:

  • Reduced need for packing materials (boxes, tape, newsprint, packing peanuts).
  • Fewer move-related trips, so less fuel  and fewer vehicle emissions.
  • Less waste to dispose of at move’s end.

Woman holding a box of household hazardous wasteIn the weeks and months leading up to your move, create and execute a plan for reducing your belongings.

  • Organize and declutter. There are a lot of online websites, lists, and books on organizing and decluttering. Find and follow the approach that works best for you. Make sure to give yourself adequate time for decluttering so you’re not feeling pressured to unnecessarily pack or discard things at move time.
  • Use, donate or sell. Use up food in your cupboards, fridge or freezer, or donate to a local food bank. Use online sharing sites to let friends and neighbors know of things you’re trying to sell or give-away, and/or hold a moving sale. 
  • Properly dispose of household hazardous wastes. Check with your county or city for information on where to safely dispose of paints, lawn care products, pesticides, and similar items. Don’t flush expired or leftover medications down the drain or toilet. They can end up in lakes, streams and other water bodies, where they pose a hazard to fish and other wildlife, or even in your drinking water.

Packing/unpacking

Boxes and packing materials are necessities before and during a move, but can be a challenge to deal with once they’ve served their purpose. Fortunately, low- or no-waste packing options are more common than they once were, giving consumers some greener choices.

  • Reusable moving crates & containers. Several companies now offer heavy-duty plastic crates for rent that take the place of cardboard boxes. Others offer strong, reusable (and returnable) cardboard boxes. In most cases, businesses deliver the crates or boxes directly to consumers and pick them up at move’s end. To find a list of businesses offering this service, search online for “reusable moving boxes MN,” or ask your moving company if they provide them.
  • Creatively use what you have. Ditch the bubble wrap and packing peanuts. In their place, try packing with blankets, sheets, towels, clothing, and similar items that you already possess.  
  • Use eco-friendly packing materials. Biodegradable packing materials, such as those made from cornstarch, are purported to be less toxic to the environment. Possible retail sources: office supply stores, moving truck rental companies, home organization stores, and online retailers.
  • Request cast-offs.  Ask friends and family members to pass along their moving supplies once they’re done with them. Other potential sources for materials: Craigslist (look under free category), Freecycle, U-Haul Box exchange, Twin Cities Free Market.

During the move

Moving truckWhether hiring a mover or moving yourself, there are ways to reduce your carbon impact. 

  • Plan a direct route. Reduce energy use and vehicle emissions by plotting as direct a route as possible to your moving destination.
  • Plan fewer trips. Efficiently loading the moving van or truck will help you to reduce the number of trips that have to be made. See Expert Tips for some suggestions.
  • Renting a truck or van? Right-size your vehicle. Choosing a vehicle that is too small can mean excess trips. Choosing one that is too large can result in unnecessary fuel consumption. Both can be bad for air quality and the environment.
  • Don’t idle. Turn off your vehicle’s engine when it’s not moving. Idling wastes fuel, emits toxic air pollutants, and contributes to global warming.
  • Inquire about hybrid or biodiesel-fueled trucks. Some professional movers are now including hybrid (diesel-electric) and/or biodiesel-fueled vehicles in their fleets. These vehicles can get substantially better fuel economy, and emit fewer toxic emissions, than conventional diesel-powered trucks.
  • Consider using sustainability as a criterion for selecting a mover. Ask businesses what green practices and policies they have in place (e.g., availability of reusable crates and biodegradable or recyclable packing materials). For examples of what some moving companies elsewhere in the U.S. are doing to green their operations, see mymove.com. 

After the move

Stack of cardboard boxesYou may be tempted to chuck boxes and packing materials in the trash or recycling bin asap after moving. Instead, try finding new homes or uses for them. Let friends and others know that you have boxes available or advertise them on Craigslist or similar websites. You can also try donating materials to shipping stores.

To & from college

Colleges are making it easier for students to practice the 3Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle) during dorm or housing move-in and move-out. Examples include:

  • Special collections of cast-off furniture, household goods and clothing for donation to charities.
  • Convenient placement and availability of recycling and reuse containers throughout dorms and other campus buildings.
  • Bike and car sharing programs.
  • Other campus sharing resources, like Concordia College’s Free Store.

Students can also make a difference by following some principals like the ones below.

Move-In

  • Leave your car at home. Take advantage of campus bike-share and car-share programs, or bring your bike with you.
  • Skip the individual mini-fridge or microwave, which can use a lot of energy. If available, use your dorm’s shared kitchen facilities, or consider sharing an energy-efficient unit with dorm friends.
  • Pack belongings in reusable crates that can be stored in your dorm room or building.
  • Minimize stuff. Too often, stuff that seems cool and necessary at the beginning of the school year becomes waste by year’s end. Only bring what you really need and will use. To avoid duplicate purchases, coordinate in advance with roommates on who's bringing what.

Check with your college to see what they provide--some colleges, for instance, rent common items like TVs. For the rest, shop locally for durable, recycled, recyclable, second-hand, and/or reusable items.

Move-out

Waste tends to be at its highest levels on college campuses during the months of May and June, when student move-out is at a peak. 

  • Avoid the last minute rush to purge, pack and vacate by allocating time in the weeks prior to year's end to sort through your stuff. Sell, give away, or recycle what you no longer want.
  • A lot of colleges now offer special  programs designed to recover materials for recycling and reuse during move-out periods. Check with your college's sustainability office to see what's offered. 

For more ideas, see Campus Initiatives.