So you moved (hopefully for the last time for at least a few years). You’ve weathered it through the planning, the packing, the problems, the active problem-solving, and the actual move, and your belongings are now in your new home. Sit down, have a drink, and relax.

The first thing you’ll be thinking about after landing in your new home is all of the unpacking you’ll have to do, but even when that part is over, you’ll still have a stack of boxes, packing peanuts, Styrofoam, bubble wrap, newspaper, paper plates, napkins, and reusable containers to do something with. Probably not so relaxed now, are you?

Unpacking, decluttering, and disposing of trash is an unavoidable part of the moving process. If you decided to throw away what you don’t need before the move, unpacking will be a little easier because you won’t have as many boxes. If you kept everything from your last home, you’ll still get through it; it’ll just take longer. Either way, you’re almost there.

Recyclable Packaging

Hopefully, all (or most) of your packing materials are recyclable. To state the obvious, the following items are recyclable:

  • Cardboard boxes
  • Packing paper
  • Newspaper
  • Paper plates (used as cushion between plates or bowls)
  • Napkins (also a good supplemental cushion between teacup saucers)
  • Green packing peanuts (the biodegradable kind)
  • Bubble wrap (*at specialty sites only. Don’t throw it in with your regular recyclables.)

The trash can may seem like a convenient option, but it’s not a good one. People produce enough garbage as it is without throwing away items that could be recycled. According to the EPA, 136 million tons of municipal solid waste went to landfills in 2014, and 89 million tons were recycled and composted.

The recycling stat isn’t so bad. It could be higher, but it’s not bad. The amount of trash that went to landfills, on the other hand, is kind of scary. 136 million tons of anything is kind of hard to picture, but let’s try: imagine 11,333.3 Asian elephants standing together (one weighs on average 12,000 lbs). That’s how much trash went to a landfill in 2014.

small elephant herdTypes of Recyclable Materials to Save

That being said, there are some recyclable packing materials that you will want to save. If you had any boxes or containers custom-made for your television or an antique family heirloom, store them in a closet or the attic. Even though the last thing you want to think about right now is moving again, it’s best to err on the side of caution. Don’t make yourself order custom boxes twice.

If you happened to have the misfortune of moving in the rain, some of your boxes probably got wet. Personally, I would unpack those first so you can go ahead and throw them away. Unfortunately, wet cardboard clogs recycling machines, so you can’t recycle it.

While it also doesn’t hurt to save a few normal, non-custom boxes, do not leave open boxes with or without packing paper sitting around, because this could attract cockroaches. When I moved, one found its way into one of my closed boxes. I tried to flick it away, and it disappeared (probably into one of my other boxes).

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Alternatives to Throwing Away Packing Materials

There are other alternatives to throwing away packing materials besides recycling, and the good news is, they are all as easy as or easier than recycling.

Sharing is caring

My personal favorite of these options is giving them away to other people I know are moving. That’s how I got most of my packing supplies, and that’s also how I got rid of all the paper and bubble wrap I used. When I was done, I put all the packing paper and newspaper into a bag so my brother could move into a house he’s renting with friends.

Cleaning

If you used newspaper, you could also use it to clean the windows and mirrors in your house. You’ll probably want to give the place a good cleaning anyway, so why not make use of what you have instead of wasting paper towels? My 10-year-old self was skeptical when my mom told me paper with ink cleans things, but 23-year-old me is convinced. Plus, it doesn’t leave streaks.

thumb popping bubble wrap

Stress Relief

Bubble wrap is a great stress reliever, for kids and adults alike. If you enjoy popping the bubbles one by one, or several at a time by twisting the sheet, you’re not alone. On a more serious note, you can recycle bubble wrap, but you may have to go to a specific drop-off site, like you would do for grocery bags.

Drainage for Plants

If you went all out and got the fancy green packing peanuts, there’s good news: you can use them to provide drainage for plants. It’s probably best not to use Styrofoam if at all possible, but if it’s unavoidable, try to find a new use for it, or call around different recycling plants to see if they accept it.

Crossing the Finish Line

You are so close to being done with this moving business, and it’s going to feel great. My advice is to tackle one room/space at a time. I started with unpacking the kitchen, and I’m working my way to unpacking my books (easily the heaviest items to move aside from my bed). I don’t have all my boxes unpacked yet, but I try to do a little bit every day.

As I go, I’m giving away packing away paper and bubble wrap, breaking down boxes, and putting the ones I want to keep in the attic. Slowly, but surely, order will be restored, and I feel good about not junking up the environment as I go.

When you’re unpacking, remember the 11,333.3 elephants—and think twice before throwing away items that can easily be recycled or reused, like cardboard boxes, packing paper, newspaper, paper plates, napkins, and green packing peanuts.