Which is Better For Moving: Plastic Containers or Cardboard Boxes?

Leslie Lang
April 19, 2021
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Moving from one home to another can be an enormous and overwhelming task. You need to be as efficient as possible while packing so that your belongings are well protected.

Moving companies sell cardboard boxes especially designed for moving household items. And many also rent out plastic containers, specifically meant for moving.

Which is better, cardboard or plastic? Here are some considerations.

Moving Boxes vs Plastic Bins

Plastic moving boxes can be reused countless times, while cardboard boxes can only be used a few times before they start to fall apart. However, you’ll pay a bit more to rent plastic totes for your move.

Plastic Moving Boxes

Plastic shipping boxes for delivery logistics, Blue plastic crate

Plastic moving containers can be rented for the duration of your move, typically between $50 and $200 a week depending on the number of containers you need. These plastic totes are stackable, so you can use as many as you need to pack your household goods.

Some moving companies rent plastic containers.  Many moving companies will deliver plastic containers to your old home and then retrieve them from your new one, saving you the hassle of breaking down and recycling cardboard boxes.

Household plastic storage boxes may not be strong enough for a move, but you may use them sparingly if you want to. (We’ll explain more later.)

Cardboard Moving Boxes

Cardboard boxes are sold by most moving companies and storage facilities, and are more widely available than plastic moving boxes. Cardboard boxes are typically more affordable, considering they are often available for free on sites such as Craigslist.

Cardboard boxes come in different sizes. Small boxes are best for smaller but heavy items such as minor appliances, books, tools, canned foods, movies and more. Keep down the weight by putting a small amount of heavier items and then filling the rest of the box with lighter items such as linens, blankets or pillows.

Thick corrugated boxes are best for fragile items such as glassware, dishes and vases.

There are cardboard moving boxes made especially for lamps, mattresses (though some movers will simply wrap your mattresses in plastic), sporting equipment, record albums, TVs, other electronics, mirrors or pictures and more.

Cardboard wardrobe boxes have bars for hanging your dresses, coats and other clothes.

Packing Plastic Moving Containers

Empty plastic moving containers can be nested, making it easier to keep down the mess while packing and unpacking.

Plastic storage containers are great for items that conform to their shape, such as pillows, blankets or stuffed animals. You don’t need to purchase packing tape or box cutters if you use plastic containers, which have built-in lids that can be secured with zip-ties,

It’s easy to label plastic containers using masking tape and a permanent marker. Once packed, plastic bins are easier to reopen (perhaps to check contents or to add last-minute items) than are cardboard boxes, which need to be cut open and re-taped.

Heavy-duty plastic moving boxes can carry a lot of weight. If you are repurposing plastic storage bins that you use around the house (Sterilite brand is one example), these may be more susceptible to breaking if you overload them.

Wrap individual items in bubble wrap when packing them inside plastic moving boxes. This will protect fragile pieces from jostling against each other when the movers pick up and transport the boxes.

Are Plastic Moving Containers Stackable?

stack of colorful plastic boxes.

Depending on the shape of your plastic containers, they may not actually stack well. Plastic bins meant for household storage do not always stack well for moving purposes; they don’t fit flush against each other because of their shape. The flexible plastic of containers can break, so some types of plastic containers should not be stacked.

However, heavy-duty plastic boxes designed specifically for moving should be able to stack nicely in the back of a moving truck.

Cardboard boxes however stack well every time, edge-to-edge, so they don’t slide around in a moving truck. Because cardboard boxes fit snugly against each other, they take up less space, which means you may pay less.

How Durable Are Plastic Moving Containers?

Plastic containers are not damaged by water, so your electronics, photos and other valuables may be safer in plastic, for instance, if it rains on moving day. A plastic tote will not burst from the bottom as an overpacked cardboard box might.

Corrugated cardboard, which is specifically designed to move household goods in transit, is durable for a few uses. Plastic moving boxes can be used again and again, making them a more eco-friendly alternative to traditional moving boxes.

Another advantage is that insects such as silverfish, termites, roaches, beetles and others like cardboard boxes. You could inadvertently bring some critters with you from your old house to your new. Such insects do not eat plastic containers.

Are Plastic Moving Containers Environmentally Friendly?

Whether cardboard boxes or plastic moving boxes are more environmental friendly boils down to how each is used and disposed of. Depending on who you ask, one might be better than other. To decide for yourself, here’s a few things to consider.

  • Most cardboard boxes are made from re-used material. Boxes can also be reused or recycled after you’re done with them, and they are biodegradable.
  • Plastic moving containers, too, are often made from recycled materials. Containers are often made from polyethylene, which can also be recycled.  While plastic moving containers are fuel fossil-based and not renewable, the big advantage is that plastic totes can be reused hundreds and hundreds of times.

After the Move

Before you make a final decision whether to use cardboard boxes or plastic moving containers to move to your new home, consider the following points:

  • Rented plastic containers must be returned by a certain date, which means you need to unpack right away. Purchased plastic containers can be re-purposed for storage in your home.
  • If you use cardboard boxes, you can take your time unloading.

Storage Considerations

If you are packing items for long term storage, you’ll need to decide whether to pack your items in cardboard boxes or plastic storage bins. Storage bins are more expensive but will provide better long-term protection for your household goods. Boxes are more affordable, but provide less protection from pests and moisture. For short-term use, cardboard boxes are perfect.

  • Plastic storage totes are often better for long-term storage because they do not attract insects, they are resistant to water and they are durable.
  • If you are storing items in a climate-controlled storage unit, though, cardboard boxes are adequate.
  • Plastic containers can be placed directly on the ground, cardboard boxes on the ground may be damaged by a flood.

Mix and match according to your needs. Pack your most expensive, precious, and irreplaceable items in plastic totes for storage. Common and replaceable items can be packed in cardboard boxes.


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