As you know, I avoid buying plastic products. Plastics contribute to the degradation of the world’s oceans, harm wildlife, and threaten human health. But in certain situations, I think that durable plastics can actually be the better alternative to biodegradable materials like cardboard. No, I didn’t suddenly take a job lobbying for the American Chemistry Council. Rather, I was contacted by Spencer Brown of Rent-a-Green Box, who manufactures and delivers recycled plastic moving boxes that save trees by replacing disposable cardboard. Rent-a-Green Box recently won a 2009 California Small Business Award for “exceptional climate change management practices and climate change communication.”
(Source: Spencer Brown, Rent-a-Green Box)
While it’s true that in my case, I generally dumpster dive for used boxes (and I have a pile of them stored in the attic for my next move), most people don’t or won’t, instead opting for new cardboard boxes which can only be used a few times before they must be discarded. In the best case, they are recycled, which requires large amounts of energy and water. In most cases, however, they are landfilled. What’s more, packing tape (usually plastic) is required to seal cardboard boxes. Not so with plastic bins, which require no extra materials to close and can be packed hundreds of times and further recycled at the end of their useful lives. While I never recommend plastic for disposable packaging or food contact, moving boxes are one use for plastic I can get behind.
Rent-a-Green Box, based in Southern California, picks up the boxes at the end of your move (provided the move is within Los Angeles County, Long Beach, or Orange County.) And the company has plans to expand nationwide within the next three years.
Rent-a-Green Box will find they have competition when expanding into the San Francisco Bay Area or greater Seattle and Vancouver areas. At the San Francisco Green Festival last year, I met Ash Sud whose company ZippGo is already providing recycled plastic moving boxes here in the Bay Area.
And in Seattle and Vancouver, Frog Box is providing a similar service, delivering and picking up reusable plastic boxes to replace cardboard.
(Source: Doug Burgoyne, Frog Box)
Comparing the Green Moving Box Companies
Rent-a-Green Box: Spencer Brown is a recycler. It’s his passion. He mines landfills for plastic bottles, plastic caps, and even disposable plastic baby diapers that most recyclers won’t touch. In addition to his Recopak plastic boxes, he recycles bottle caps into Reco-Zip zip ties (which can then be returned to him for recycling into new zip ties), and those used diapers into Poopy Pallets, which enable the plastic boxes to be easily loaded on and off the truck. (The diapers have been sanitized prior to recycling.)
ZippGo: ZippGo also provides certified recycled plastic boxes, which the company sources from an outside manufacturer.
Frog Box: Frog Boxes are made from virgin plastic. Doug Burgoyne, owner of Frog Box, explained that he feels boxes made from new plastic will last longer than those from recycled plastic. The company has been in business since April of 2008, and thus far the only broken box has been one that was damaged by a fork lift. And he is negotiating with local recyclers to find a way to take back and recycle the boxes if and when they do wear out.
What’s your opinion about recycled vs. new moving boxes?
Recycled Paper & Aluminum:
All three companies provide packing materials made from recycled paper.
Geami replaces bubble wrap for protecting breakables. The Rent-a-Green Box truck is equipped with a machine for manufacturing the Geami as needed right at the customer’s location. ZippGo drops off rolls of Geami along with its green boxes. Frog Box does not provide Geami, opting for other solutions.
Expandos replace Styrofoam peanuts. They’re made from post-industrial waste (rather than post-consumer) but they can be reused multiple times. Both ZippGo and Rent-a-Green Box offer this packing material to customers. Frog Box, on the other hand, offers biodegradable packing peanuts.
Recycled Packing Paper is provided by all three companies to replace tissue paper.
In addition to the materials listed above, Rent-a-Green Box also offers recycled box labels (made from end-of-use starch), recycled zip ties (from used bottle caps), recycled bags (made from unusable sail cloth) and even recycled dollies (from aluminum cans.)
As a truly green solution, Frog Box encourages customers to skip the disposables altogether and wrap their breakables in the towels and sheets that they would have to pack anyway. Personally, I’ve moved many times and never once purchased new packing materials, opting for old newspapers or towels, sheets, and clothing. Why expend the energy (not to mention the money) on recycling newspaper into a new product when we can use the newspaper as is?
What do you think is the greenest packing material?
All three companies power their trucks with biodiesel made from recycled vegetable oils.
Other Good Stuff
Doug from Frog Box touts his company’s contributions to frog habitat restoration projects such as Save the Frogs. He explained to me that frogs are an “indicator” species, breathing both through water and air. They are among the first creatures to be affected by pollutants in the environment, and they are becoming extinct at a rate faster than the dinosaurs.
Does It Work?
Last week, I spoke with ZippGo customer Anu Menon, who had just received her moving boxes. She was happy to share her opinions of the company, its products and service.
Anu told me her green moving company, Moving Mountain Logistics, had recommended ZippGo, and that she was happy to find an eco-friendly alternative to cardboard boxes. In addition to using the boxes, she opted for geami for packing her dishes. She has always been someone who tries to live as green a life as possible and wanted to find a way to lower her ecological footprint during her move.
In addition to the eco benefits of replacing cardboard boxes, Anu found a few practical reasons for choosing plastic bins. First, the bins don’t require tape, which means they can be opened and closed multiple times while packing to add or move items. They have handles, which make them easy to carry. And they are easy to stack and to wheel around on the dolly provided.
Since the boxes must be returned to ZippGo within two weeks, customers are forced to unpack more quickly than they might have with cardboard boxes. For Anu, this is a plus, since she still has unpacked boxes from the last time she moved. Anu also appreciated that she didn’t have to figure out what to do with her boxes once emptied.
One suggestion she had for ZippGo would be to provide bigger box labels. She felt that the ones that came with her boxes were too small to write everything she needed to and to be seen by the movers.
What About Your Move?
Will you be moving in the near future? What steps will you take to make your packing as green as possible?
Jennifer Ciotta from Bright Hub recommends saving and reusing the packing materials we already have: boxes from printer paper or other shipments; sheets, towels and even clothing like old sweat pants; used bubble wrap and packing peanuts; or reusable canvas bags.
Siel from Green LA Girl suggests reducing the stuff you have to pack up in the first place by selling or donating what you don’t really need.
This post has also been published at BlogHer.com.