How Much Waste Does Moving Create?

An estimated 15 million American families move every year. That’s over 31 million people in total packing up boxes, cleaning out refrigerators and throwing away all their unwanted junk.

All of this moving requires a ton of resources and generates a lot of waste, but just how much?

With sustainability becoming more of a focus for the US, we thought we‘d run the numbers to see just how resource-intensive moving really is.

Spoiler alert: Americans use a massive amount of resources every year to move.

Planning on moving and want to do it sustainably? See our eco-friendly moving guide.

900 million cardboard boxes

Cardboard boxes are a staple of any move and one of the first things people typically buy. At an estimated 900 million cardboard boxes used per year, moving requires a lot of boxes! And unfortunately, most of the boxes end up in the trash.

How we got this number:

15,000,000 households move every year
X 60 boxes average per household
= 900 million boxes

What you can do:

  • Find free, used cardboard boxes. We have a huge list of free box options here.
  • Use plastic moving bins if you’re moving locally. There are a ton of companies that rent out plastic bins specifically for moving.
  • Use your own suitcases, bins and storage containers so you need fewer boxes

8.4 million tons of junk

Every time I move it never ceases to amaze me how much useless junk and trash I find while cleaning out closets, junk drawers, and old cabinets. And it turns out I’m not alone.

An estimated 8.4 million tons, that’s 16.8 billion pounds, of junk get thrown away every year in the name of moving. That’s an absolutely epic amount of trash.

How we got this number:

15,000,000 households move every year
X 1,120 pounds of junk on average produced per household
= 8.4 million tons of junk

What you can do:

  • Go through all your junk and be sure to donate as much as possible.
  • Have a yard sale. Your junk is someone else’s treasure.
  • Buy less stuff. This one is easier said than done but we can all try.

345,000 tons of food

Considering Americans waste an estimated 150,000 tons of food a day, it’s no surprise that a lot of food gets tossed on moving day. But the real tragedy here is unlike regular food waste, moving day food waste involves a lot of highly reusable items liked canned goods and pasta.

The back of the refrigerator and kitchen cabinets are filled with old items that we often assume are no longer good so we toss them. But the truth is most of that food could be donated or recycled.

Organizations like Move For Hunger are partnering directly with moving companies to help reduce moving day food waste and redirect millions of meals to food banks across the country.

How we got this number:

15,000,000 households move every year
X 46 pounds of food waste on average per household
= 345,000 tons of wasted food

What you can do:

  • Arrange to donate your food to a local food bank
  • Plan to buy only essential food items in the weeks leading up to your move
  • Understand the difference between “Use By” or “Best By” dates and when food has actually gone bad to help reduce your food waste

353 million gallons of fuel

Roughly 14% of moves every year are interstate with an average distance of over 1200 miles. Hauling furniture and boxes that far requires a lot of fuel, especially if you’re in an old rental truck.

The rest of the moves are local and only range about 20 miles. But with so many people moving each year we still burn around 353 million gallons of fuel to do all this moving around.

How we got this number:

258 million local move miles
+ 2.8 billion long-distance move miles
divided by 8 miles per gallon (typical moving truck fuel economy)
= 353 million gallons of fuel

What you can do:

  • Plan your route ahead of time, avoid having to go back and forth across town running errands.

90 million pounds of packing paper

Packing paper helps keep our breakables safe while moving and man do we love to use a lot of it. 90 million pounds to be exact!

How we got this number:

15,000,000 households move every year
X 6 pounds of packing paper on average per household
= 90 million pounds of packing paper

What you can do:

  • Use your own towels, blankets, and pillows to pad items.
  • Do not use packing peanuts, bubble wrap or any styrofoam to pack breakables. Packing paper is your most environmentally friendly option

30 million rolls of tape

You can never have enough tape and this is certainly true when it comes to moving. We use roughly 30 million rolls while moving each year. Mostly to seal up those 900 million cardboard moving boxes.

How we got this number:

15,000,000 households move every year
X 2 tape rolls on average per household
= 30 million rolls of tape

What you can do:

  • Use biodegradable tape to take the guilt out of all that taping
  • Rent plastic bins and totes from a local company like BungoBox

Final Thoughts

It’s interesting. Many times, we have the perception that doing things in an eco-friendly way will cost a premium. For a waste-free move (or at least one with little waste), you’re actually going to save money by thinking outside the box and only buying those things you really need. In truth, the more things you move, the more supplies you’ll need and the more waste that will be created from it. These are important things to think about when you’re considering moving to help the environment and your wallet. Another thing that will help your wallet will be to know how much your move is going to cost. For this, we made an instant moving cost estimator.

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