The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish
January 20, 2010

Green Moving Boxes Made from… Plastic?

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.”

Spencer Brown from Rent-a-Green Box

(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.

Ash Sud from ZippGo

And in Seattle and Vancouver, Frog Box is providing a similar service, delivering and picking up reusable plastic boxes to replace cardboard.

Frog Box

(Source: Doug Burgoyne, Frog Box)

Comparing the Green Moving Box Companies

Recycled Plastic

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.

geami

(Geami)

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.

expandos

(Expandos)

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?

Transportation

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.

In addition to Rent-a-Green Box and Frog Box, Diane from Big Green Purse recommends purchasing and reselling used cardboard boxes from companies like Ecobox or UsedCardboardBoxes.com.

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.

29 comments
BrewCityBoxes
BrewCityBoxes

I think it would be a great time to look at this again,  Independent operators are popping up all over the country.  Not only Elf Boxes, but there is my business, Brew City Boxes located in Southeastern Wisconsin.  Rocky Mountain Box Co is now servicing the Fort Collins area of Colorado and beyond.  This article pointed out many of the franchises that are available, but supporting local businesses help support your community.  

http://www.brewcityboxes.com

homeimprovementninja
homeimprovementninja

I started a company in the washington DC area (and also in Florida) that rents plastic reusable moving boxes.  It's called Elf Boxes and the website is http://www.elfboxes.com  We're not a franchise, we're a family owned and operated company.  To answer one of the commenters, it's about half what you would pay to buy cardboard boxes at a place like Uhaul, Staples, or Home Depot. 

Kelly
Kelly

FREE PLASTIC MOVING BOXES another great reason so DO USE KELLY'S MOVING COMPANY This is a great moving company as they offer the free rental of plastic moving boxes when you move with them and also they a connection with a few of the well known plastic moving box renters in toronto area so they can get you special pricing there also.The website is www. kellysmoving.ca

AJ
AJ

BLAH,BLAH, BLAH..... DOES IT SAVE ME MONEY? WHAT DOES IT COST,HIDDEN COST?

Theo @ DIYHomeSolarPanels.org
Theo @ DIYHomeSolarPanels.org

Great idea, hopefully this will catch on and go nationwide, worldwide??. Everything starts somewhere! Love the photos by the way.

FROGBOX
FROGBOX

Great article! FROGBOX is now open in Toronto Ontario. This is our third location -we already deliver moving boxes and moving supplies in Vancouver, British Columbia and Seattle, Washington. If you're moving in one of our cities check out www.frogbox.com.

Al @ las vegas movers
Al @ las vegas movers

All this stuff in the news about green this and green that. The government talking about green jobs. I would say to myself " what a waste of time, how is this going to create jobs" WELL! I'm telling you that you just opened my eyes to the possibilities and the endless ideas to create green jobs. This is the new age and just more proof why the American way of life and business is so great. Wow.

Green Moving
Green Moving

When moving, being "green" seems to be something people and businesses don't think a lot about. Especially when it comes to moving your business, being environmentally friendly doesn't have to be a pain. The "green-boxes" is a great place to start. Also, consider looking for a moving company who will move your furniture (dressers, filing cabinets, etc.) with the contents still inside. This requires NO boxes, and with the right equipment it is entirely possible.

Carla
Carla

I was thinking of this very thing all week as I am moving tomorrow. We borrowed plastic bins from friends who have used them to move, and have received cardboard boxes, but oh the tape! And all the wrapping for breakables is with cloth, some paper. By the way, I have wrapped art in shipping (included as luggage in a plane) with cloth and have only once in over 12 years had a broken glass. On a related note, for a few years I had a few boxes with wine glasses, plates of different sizes, bowls and cutlery that we used to entertain - we used to have a lot of parties! :) We lent it out a number of times with the only condition that people return them clean, all items were from the thrift store so no biggie if something broke. We also knew of another familyl that did this. It is pretty simple to do and a great community initiative. We stopped this when we moved abroad for a few years, but may pick it up again.

Annie
Annie

Several times a year, I need to ship a few boxes of framed art (with glass). Nothing works like peanuts, and I console myself (but not really) by reusing them many times. Does anyone know of a packing store (for shipping, not moving) in San Francisco that uses a more environmentally friendly product? When I've used wadded up newspaper, some frames always end up broken.

Patty
Patty

My company used a similar program back in the spring of last year when we moved office buildings. Each employee was issued a few boxes based on their cube/office size. We packed them, snapped them shut, locked them (if preferred) and then just unloaded at the next place. We had a color/number code set up for how the movers would get the boxes to the proper new office which 'mostly' worked. It was convenient but there were a few things...we were only allowed to stack the boxes 3 high and had to keep the weight low due to OSHA lifting regulations. That was generally ok but I'm not sure how many full ones someone could actually stack in a moving truck without hurting the dishes or themselves. Size matters...some bins required inefficient packing b/c the binders only fit in one direction. Also we had a number of cracked and broken bins so I'd be currious if an industry study showed how many moves a bin would last. Also if someone was doing a personal move, because the boxes are all the same size you don't really have that perfect one that fits under the table legs in the truck and such...not that that is a huge downside but something to consider. I second the part about it helping people to unpack quicker. For people that move really often like college students dorm hopping its not bad to have a set of bins or crates to use over and over again. Those milkcrates can be used for shelving and moving.

ruralaspirations
ruralaspirations

I have moved many times in my life. Hunting around for boxes takes time and planning, something that is hard to accomplish even without young children in tow. Ultimately I'd end up buying new boxes from the U-Haul store, or tossing stuff in garbage bags at the last minute (an expensive comforter got lost in such a manner when it was mistaken for real garbage). When we moved to this house 2 years ago we used a moving box service such as the ones you describe (Movingblocks.com). It was fantastic and worth every penny. First, it made packing SO much easier (and with two small children running underfoot it was already a mammoth undertaking). Second, the moving guys found it SO easy to load the truck that it took them about 1/3rd of the time to load as with regular moving supplies. This saved us $$$ in time and labour, which more than made up for the cost of the moving boxes. And we got just the right sized truck because we knew exactly how many cubic feet our boxes would take up. This saved us the hassle of trying to move stuff that didn't fit in the truck, and money by not renting a larger, more expensive truck than we needed. We are going to be moving again within the next 3 months and I will most definitely be using the service again.

Clarissa
Clarissa

It's great to see a shift to reusable materials in the moving industry. I try to avoid waste whenever I can, and I used Freecycle to get used moving boxes last time I moved. A friend who was moving a little while later reused the boxes. I found this to be a great green and cheap way of getting moving supplies.

Michael
Michael

Perhaps the box companies could give out grease pencils instead of labels... That would overcome the problem with tiny labels that can't fit all of the info, since the whole box can be marked up as much as a cardboard box with a sharpie. The boxes could be wiped clean before the next mover gets them, which would require a bit of work, but perhaps an amount comparable to label removal.

Bellen
Bellen

While these totes may be new to the moving industry, they have been used by major natural foods distributors, such as Tree of Life and United Naturals, for at least the last 15. They are wonderful - easy to stack full, very compact when stacked empty and strong. We'd borrowed about 25 from Tree of Life, with permission, when one of our kids moved out. So simple, so organized - he'd put one in front of his dresser and start packing with no concern for weight other than what he could lift. There were only a few things, besides furniture, that did not fit - even his computer fit and we knew it would not be damaged - something we never could be sure of in a box.

Lara S.
Lara S.

This are great ideas :) but I think they might be necessary only in a big house's move. I've moved myself several times and just used a few boxes I picked up from nearby stores. To cushion fragile items I wrap them in clothes, towels, blankets or sheets. When I was little and the whole family moved, the truck that moved our stuff had many huge baskets (the size of a huge tub!). The bad thing about them was that they were so big they were hard to move once they were full! But they were totally biodegradable. It was a nice surprise to learn about all that new earth-friendly packing materials!

Laura
Laura

Since until a year ago I had been a student, I moved every year or two and got pretty good at getting lots of free boxes. Liquor stores, grocery stores, and big box stores have lots of boxes they are usually happy to give away. Freecycle is another option, both for getting used boxes and also giving your boxes away once you move and unpack.

mudnessa
mudnessa

I would definitely rent some boxes IF my husband didn't work in a shipping warehouse and we didn't get free boxes to use before they made their way to be recycled. I think it is a great idea.

Ash Sud
Ash Sud

Thank you for letting your readers know about the green replacement for the cardboard moving box. Each time a customer uses ZippGo green reusable moving boxes to pack and move they are making an immediate impact on the planet. Precious trees are saved and cardboard boxes are prevented from going to a local landfill. I accidentally came up with this concept in 2003 and then years later after realizing how much other people and the planet could benefit from the concept, I decided to turn into it into a business. ZippGo was born! In addition to the environmental benefits, we've found that using ZippGo moving boxes speed up your packing time by up to 4 times. Additionally using ZIppGo moving boxes are cheaper than the total cost of buying and assembling cardboard boxes. If you are using a mover, the boxes also reduce the move time which saves money as well. The boxes are convenient, good for your wallet, and good for the planet. Each time someone uses our service, they end up loving the concept so much that they become evangelists for our company. Keep up the excellent stories Beth. Cheers, Ash Sud Founder | ZippGo The Green Moving Box www.ZippGo.com (800) 723-7017

Bryan
Bryan

Very worthy to read on, great article, so nicely put together. I love the photo of a frog carrying his own box, so cute. I love your ideas. Thanks for the post!

Scott Wells
Scott Wells

Here in Washington, D.C., you can get these -- perhaps not as green their packing materials, but an improvement all the same -- from companies that serve office moving firms. But scrounged boxes would be cheaper. Also, suggest this kind of service if you work in an office and are planning a move -- I was responsible for one such and not only was it greener, but far more convenient that building and disposing of all those cardboard boxes.

Eleanor
Eleanor

Hopefully the rest of the country will catch up with the west coast, once again :D I like to use clothes to wrap things - it motivates me to dust and clean the things that need padding, or else do laundry when I arrive :D Socks are fantastic for little things, small corners too.

Amber
Amber

I am not planning on moving anytime soon, but now that I know about FrogBox I will definitely use them if and when the time comes. I live in greater Vancouver and I like the idea of supporting a local green business. I agree with you that this is one situation where going plastic may make more sense. Thanks for the tip!

Rob
Rob

Like this post. I see the fact that the moving boxes are made of recycled palstic and used over and over again as a positive. I have seen stories about Rent a Green Box on Planet green TV, and feel he is on his way to greatness! As for me, I don't plan on moving in the near future, but if I did I would certainly rent boxes to do it. As for packing material, I am a believer in using towels, which I already own, to cushion breakables.

AJP
AJP

I moved last September and really wanted to use a similar service here in Boston, but it was going to cost about 150$ which I found to be absurdly expensive. So I just scavenged a bunch of used cardboard boxes from nearby liquor stores, at a cost of absolutely free. As far as packing peanuts went, I just used old tax forms and newspapers that I find discarded outside of the local library.

Pure Mothers
Pure Mothers

Love this post! If I move back to CA and need to move again locally, I will look them up! I'm a fan of rice starch or potato starch packing peanuts. My vitamin company uses them. Thanks for this post, Beth. You always find relevant topics and ways to reduce our plastic consumption or just plain consumption. You are an inspiration.

Kristen
Kristen

These are all such great ideas! One problem, I live in MN and only a minority of the population here thinks this way. Does anyone have any suggestions or have they heard of similar companies in the Midwest? Thanks!

spencerbrown
spencerbrown

What an awesome article! Thank you so much for getting the word out for all of us that are doing the right thing. Renting a moving box made from recycled or virgin plastic saves trees that would be cut down to make a disposable box that will ultimately end up in a landfill! We'ev been saying this for the past 5 years and it's finally catching on, so thank you! The other great aspect of all of these boxes is that they can easily be recycled into another green moving box- creating more green jobs. We've brought to market over 13 unique green moving alternatives and are now selling most of my Zero Waste Packing Materials to moving companies across the nation as well as Canada, Australia and Japan! Again, that you for writing about all of our companies and we're in business to green your next move without trashing the planet! Sincerely Green, Spencer Brown founder of rentagreenbox.com 1.888.900.7225

BethTerry
BethTerry moderator

Interesting.  I do think the point about the plastic being heavier and therefore requiring more fuel to ship is a valid one.  However, I notice the writer doesn't mention all the plastic tape that people use to close up cardboard boxes.  Nor does he/she compare how long the plastic bins last vs. cardboard boxes.  I'll still dumpster dive for used boxes and seal them with paper tape.  But I don't think recycled, reusable plastic bins are as evil as the writer suggests... especially if you're only moving a short distance.

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