Moving Sustainably: The Ultimate Guide to Eco-Friendly Moving

There’s a downside to moving that many people don’t consider: The environmental impact. This guide shows why moving sustainably might be easier than you think.
Moving Sustainably: The Ultimate Guide to Eco-Friendly Moving

There are a lot of things that make moving difficult: The stress, the packing, and the expenses, just to name a few. But one big downside to moving that isn’t discussed quite as often is its environmental impact. Moving sustainably is just beginning to become part of the conversation, despite the moving industry’s history of being less than green.

From vehicle emissions to landfill waste from packing supplies and discarded possessions, the average move has the potential to create a lot of environmental harm. But it doesn’t have to. With some new knowledge, careful planning, and the right tools, anyone can make their move more sustainable. Read on to learn how.

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Sustainability Pain Points in the Moving Industry

Transportation Emissions

Landfill Waste

Self Storage Impact

Non-Green Cleaning Supplies

Moving Sustainably: 8 Steps for an Eco-Friendly Move

After Your Move: Making Your New Home Green

Buy Used Furniture and goods

Embrace a More Minimalist Lifestyle

Use Eco-Friendly Decor

Invest in Energy-Efficient Appliances

Go Paperless

Embrace Eco-Friendly New Habits

Help Make More Moves Eco-Friendly with Neighbor

Sustainability Pain Points in the Moving Industry

Historically, there are a number of ways the moving industry has negatively impacted the environment.

Transportation emissions

One of the biggest downsides to moving is that it’s virtually impossible to do so without creating carbon emissions, sometimes in significant amounts. Transportation accounts for around 30% of total greenhouse gas emissions in industrialized countries, according to the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis.

In the U.S., every gallon of gas burned by a vehicle is responsible for about 24 pounds of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The process of extracting, refining, and delivering fuel creates about 5 pounds per gallon, but the other 19 pounds per gallon are created when the fuel is used by a vehicle.

Transportation emissions

When moving, it’s nearly impossible to eliminate carbon emissions. You have to transport your belongings, and carbon-free transportation, like walking or cycling, is not a practical way to move boxes or furniture. Some ways to help reduce the carbon emissions from moving transportation include:

  • Using an electric vehicle to move your belongings.
  • Using a truck large enough to move everything in one trip.
  • Shipping your belongings rather than driving them to your new home. Shipping by plane is more eco-friendly than moving things by car or truck, but shipping by train, if possible, is even better for the environment.
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Landfill waste

Moving typically creates a lot of waste. From moving boxes to packing materials to discarded belongings — many items that can be reused, donated, sold, or recycled end up in the trash during the average move. Below, we’ll go over some strategies for making moving less wasteful.

Self storage impact

Traditional self storage, in sprawling, suburban facilities with 24-hour lighting and temperature control, are not particularly good for the planet. Many families utilize self storage during a move, especially if they’re downsizing or need to store belongings between homes.

Instead of renting traditional storage units, eco-conscious movers can use Neighbor to store their belongings in unused home, office, or warehouse space in their community. It’s safe, secure, and better for the environment than traditional self storage.

Non-green cleaning supplies

With the average move comes a lot of cleaning. Unfortunately, many popular cleaning products are harmful to the environment, either because they use harsh chemicals that can harm the Earth, or because their packaging uses unsustainable single-use plastics.

Further down, we’ll talk about some alternatives, from green cleaning supply companies to homemade, DIY solutions.

Moving Sustainably: 8 Steps for an Eco-Friendly Move

From reducing your move’s carbon footprint to eliminating needless waste, follow these 8 steps for a more sustainable way to move.

Step 1: Plan ahead

Moving sustainably is, unfortunately, not the status quo. That means that making your move as eco-friendly as possible means planning even further ahead than you would for a typical move. Allow yourself extra time to look for eco-friendly moving companies, source sustainable packing materials, research recycling opportunities, and more.

RELATED: The Ultimate Moving Checklist

Step 2: Look for eco-friendly movers or transportation

Some moving companies have seen and embraced opportunities to create more sustainable practices within their industry. Whether by using more fuel-efficient moving trucks (or even electric vehicles or biodiesel trucks), launching tree-planting initiatives to offset their emissions, or other green practices, it’s now possible to hire a moving company based on the sustainability of their business.

When looking for a green moving company, beware of marketing that’s full of eco-friendly buzzwords. Instead, ask these questions to assess moving companies:

  • Do you have any references that can speak to your sustainable practices?
  • Do you use reusable moving boxes and supplies?
  • Do you use biodegradable packing materials?
  • How do you ensure you can complete a move in just one trip?
  • What other practices make your company more sustainable than others?

RELATED: 5 Tips for Hiring Movers and Packers

If you’re planning a DIY move without the help of professional movers, you can also find ways to make transporting your belongings more green. Rather than taking multiple trips in your own car, rent a truck so you can move everything in one trip (even if the truck is less fuel-efficient, this will typically be the greener option). For long-distance moves, look for ways to ship your belongings by rail, one of the greenest modes of transport in the U.S.

Step 3: Sell or donate unwanted belongings

Rather than throwing away items you don’t want to bring with you when you move, spend the extra time and effort to sell or donate them. This helps reduce landfill waste created by the moving industry.

Step 4: Research recycling options

For unwanted items that can’t be sold or donated, see if recycling is an option. Many organizations can help you recycle old electronics, worn-out clothing, furniture, and other unexpected items.

Step 5: Use eco-friendly packing materials and strategies

One of the most harmful aspects of a move is packing materials, the most common of which contribute to deforestation and single-use plastics. By seeking out eco-friendly packing materials and using packing strategies that minimize environmental harm, you can make your move more eco-friendly.

  • Look for rentable moving boxes. Companies like ZippGo, Bungo Box, Bin It, Rent a Moving Box, Redi-Box, and even U-Haul offer rentable boxes and bins that can be used for a move, and then returned for more households to use.
  • Source free boxes from local stores, or reuse moving boxes from a previous move.
  • Look for biodegradable packing supplies (like packing peanuts made from cornstarch, rather than styrofoam).
  • Use clothes, sheets, linens, pillows, and blankets as cushioning for fragile items, rather than plastic bubble wrap. Even recycled newspapers or magazines can be a more environmentally friendly choice than plastic products.
  • Pack inside storage bins, baskets, drawers, totes, suitcases, and other household items so you can use fewer cardboard boxes (and create less waste) during your move 


Step 6: Pack the kitchen last

Packing the kitchen even just a few days before you move can mean creating unnecessary waste from takeout, paper plates and cups, and plastic cutlery. Try not to pack the kitchen until the last minute, so you can still use your own belongings for cooking and eating.

As you pack your kitchen, be mindful of the food waste you’re creating. Plan ahead for your move by meal planning and shopping deliberately so you won’t end up with a lot of perishable food that needs to be thrown out. See if Move For Hunger or another similar organization operates in your community — they’ll match you with a local mover who will pick up and transport non-perishable food items to a local food pantry.

Step 7: Clean with green products

When you move out of your old home, you’ll need to clean it thoroughly — but instead of chemical-filled cleaning products in single-use plastic containers, consider sustainable alternatives. Green cleaning supplies are a booming business, so there are options if you’d like to buy some environmentally friendly cleaners. Or, you can DIY some homemade cleaners using common household goods.

Step 8: Store belongings with a neighbor

If you need storage while relocating, consider the most eco-friendly self storage there is: Free space in a neighbor’s home. Connect with a neighbor in your community to store your belongings safely and affordably.

After Your Move: Making Your New Home Green

It’s one thing to move sustainably. But as you’re unpacking and settling into your new home, you can use the change to embrace some eco-friendly new habits. Here’s how to make your new home green as you arrive, unpack, and make yourself at home.

Buy used furniture and goods

Rather than buying new, look for second-hand furniture and home goods that you can reuse in your new home. Thrift stores, consignment shops, and online marketplaces like Craigslist are all great places to search for gently used belongings.

Embrace a more minimalist lifestyle

Embrace a more minimalist lifestyle


Moving is also a great time to declutter and downsize. Once you’ve pared down your belongings, try not to buy a lot of new ones for your new home. Living a minimalist lifestyle means less waste and consumerism, which can be better for the planet.

Use eco-friendly decor

There are many ways to be more green when decorating a new home. Using eco-friendly paints is a great starting point. Avoid decor made of plastic or other unsustainable materials. Invest in locally made furniture, rather than mass-produced pieces from big-box stores.

Invest in energy-efficient appliances

If your appliances are old, it might be time to upgrade. Many modern appliances are far more energy-efficient than their older counterparts. Not only are they more eco-friendly, but they could save you money on energy bills in the long term.

While thinking about energy efficiency in your home, don’t limit yourself to just appliances. Consider installing solar panels to generate your own energy. Invest in rechargeable batteries for small appliances and electronics. And make sure all the lights in your new home use energy-efficient LED bulbs.

Go paperless

When changing your address to your new home, take the extra time to sign up for paperless billing and communications from any entities that regularly send you mail.

Embrace eco-friendly new habits

A move is a big change. Use this time to embrace some other changes that will make your home and habits more sustainable. For example, make sure you understand how to take advantage of recycling programs in your new community. Conserve water with drought-resistant landscaping. Plant a garden and grow some produce at home.

Help Make More Moves Eco-Friendly with Neighbor

Congratulations on making a more sustainable move. Now, it’s your turn — help others in your community move sustainably by renting out free space in your new home with Neighbor.