I just moved across the country three times in one summer (long story), so I got lots of practice figuring out how to do a zero waste move. Here are some tips I wrote down so that I can remember to use them again for my next move. These suggestions not only helped reduce the negative environmental impact of my moves, but also made moving more efficient and cost-effective:
Throw a “house cooling” party!
If you have food or toiletries that you can’t finish before you move, one fun way to make sure they don’t all go to waste is to throw a “house cooling” party (the opposite of a house warming party). Invite your friends and neighbors to come enjoy an eclectic mix of whatever food and drinks you still have leftover. Set out other things you are getting rid of as party favors – extra food and spices, useful toiletries, furniture, knick knacks, etc. A house cooling party also doubles as a great way to get together with your friends before you move away.
Donate stuff you don’t want or can’t bring
Moving is a great opportunity to go through your belongings and decide which of them you no longer want in your life. Be sure to donate or recycle any reusable items you choose to discard, instead of putting them in the trash can.
Many items can be donated to a thrift store near you. Books can be donated to libraries. Used electronics can be recycled, either via municipal waste management programs or at an electronics store (such as BestBuy or Staples). Your local food pantry may accept donations of unopened food, and the app Olio can be used to give away any leftover food items you can’t use up in time.
If you live in Ann Arbor, check out this database of places you can donate things you no longer need—from batteries to mattresses—and keep them out of the landfill.
If you want to make a little money to offset the costs of moving, you also could try to sell some of your items via websites like Craigslist, NextDoor or Facebook marketplace. “Buy No Things” or “Buy Nothing” groups on Facebook exist in most cities and are a great resource for getting rid of stuff in a way that ensures people use it. Based on my experience, some things can take a while to sell. I recommend prioritizing the things you are selling based on how long you want to use them, then posting them online as soon as possible. For example, I posted my bookshelf and coffee table a few weeks before my move, but waited until the last few days to post my bed (which I wanted to sleep in as long as possible!)
Use your stuff as padding for your stuff
Many people need to protect fragile items during a move and may purchase bubble wrap, packing peanuts, or newsprint to wrap them. An excellent alternative to all of that disposable packing material is simply to use blankets, sheets, towels, pillows and other soft items that you already own. This tip has the extra benefit of making your packing more efficient: instead of taking up extra space with disposable padding, you can consolidate even more by combining your fragile and cushiony belongings. And you save money by not purchasing extra stuff. Win-win-win.
Use bags you have (instead of boxes you have to buy)
My first instinct when I began packing was to start putting things in boxes. This approach seemed effective at first, but I soon realized that I had filled an entire box with bags that were perfectly capable of holding their own contents.
Instead of this: Do this:
Especially for items that are not fragile, pack your stuff in bags you already own instead of in cardboard boxes. I was especially glad I had done this when I began to pack things into the trunk of my car; it was much easier to carry and arrange lots of smaller bags than it would have been to fit large boxes.
Scour your neighborhood alleys and recycling bins for boxes
If you do choose to use boxes for packing (which I did for kitchen things like knives and dishes), there is no need to purchase new cardboard boxes! Instead, post on your local Buy Nothing Group to see if anyone has extra boxes lying around or spend a few evenings walking around the alleys of your current neighborhood, where you will likely find cardboard boxes that neighbors/businesses have discarded in their trash or recycling. Many of these boxes are clean and will make perfectly good moving boxes, and I doubt your neighbors or trash collectors will mind if you take the boxes off of their hands. Equally as wonderful as free zero waste boxes: a mindful walk in the neighborhood you are soon moving from, which is a lovely way to break up the stress of moving.
A similar strategy could be to go to a thrift store and look for used plastic bins, which are also great for packing fragile items.
Set aside zero waste tools for for travel days
While you’re moving, you may not have access to all of the stuff that you packed up. Make sure to pack an accessible bag full of zero-waste essentials like food containers, utensils, cloth napkins, dish soap, reusable water bottles, etc. I also used the last bits of food in my pantry to make creative zero waste snacks for my moving day: leftover flour and spices became crackers in interesting new flavors, and a collection of random tea bags became a surprisingly delicious blended iced tea.
Make time for zero waste cleanup
Even after you’ve done lots of work packing and purging your stuff, you still need to clean the home you are leaving before you head out for the last time. It is helpful to set aside time and materials needed for these final tasks.
Plan when you will empty your final batch of food scraps into the compost.
Keep some zero waste cleaning materials ready. Put all of your old clothes, towels and sheets to work as rags. Use up any remaining soaps or household cleaners, or use leftover vinegar and baking soda from your pantry. By using what you already have, you avoid the need to purchase any new cleaning supplies like paper towels or chemical cleaners.
Finally, even after lots of thrift store donations and a house cooling party, I still had plenty of things that ended up in the trash. To collect the garbage, I used my collection of plastic bags from the bulk section of the local grocery store that I would no longer be going to. Remember that “zero waste” doesn’t have to be perfect to be good, and every little change is a good one!