Should I use plastic totes or moving boxes for my move?

The best way to protect your belongings 

Paper or plastic? While this is a question most commonly heard at the grocery store, it can come up when you’re moving, too.  Should you pack your stuff into cardboard boxes or plastic totes? Choosing the right thing is important when it comes to moving long distance. 

Plastic totes are very popular for storage. And they might even appear sturdier and easier to stack than moving boxes. But are they a smart investment? Will they keep your stuff safe and secure for a trek across the country in a moving truck? 

Stacks of empty plastic totes.


We'll help you decide

First, we’ll discuss some basic information about each, then we’ll dig into some factors about plastic totes and cardboard boxes that may be important to you. 

Plastic containers

As we’ve discussed, plastic containers are great for home storage. Place anything from Christmas décor to seasonal clothing inside, and they’re good to go for the year. Handles make them easy to carry, and if you get similar sizes, they’re easy to stack, too.  

Cardboard moving boxes

They come in a variety of sizes for virtually any size item (you can even customize any size box using multiple boxes), they breakdown easy, and they’re recyclable. Like plastic containers, if you get similar sizes they’re easy to stack, and since smaller ones are difficult to overfill, they’re easy to carry.   

So which is better for moving household goods long distance? Our experience leans toward boxes, and here’s why:

  1. Durability. This is the most critical reason to use moving boxes rather than plastic totes. Boxes that are designed for moving are made of corrugated fiberboard that protects the household goods packed inside during transit. Since boxes can stack edge-to-edge, they hold their shape better than their plastic counterparts — especially when things are stacked on top. While plastic containers are good for residential storage, in transit they can crack, cave or topple easily. 
  2. Size. Plastic storage tubs typically only come in a few standard sizes, which limits packing options. Cardboard boxes come in a variety of dimensions, and help protect household goods of any size, such as lamps, mirrors, televisions, glassware, silverware and dishes. Cardboard boxes also come in smaller sizes, which comes in handy when packing other household goods like books, which can be heavier. 
  3. Space. Some moving services charge for the amount of space you occupy in the moving truck. Plastic bins are often bulkier and don’t stack evenly, but cardboard boxes squarely stack, conserving space. 
  4. Storage. Want to keep your bins or boxes when you’re done with the move? If so, boxes may be your best choice because they can be stored more easily. They can be folded and put away, or broken down completely, and don’t take up much space when deconstructed. Plastic totes, on the other hand, can nest neatly inside one other when empty, but they can’t be broken down, taking up more space in your home.  
  5. Environmental friendliness. Cardboard boxes are more eco-friendly because they’re easily biodegradable. Paper and cardboard materials are the most recycled component of municipal solid waste, according to research from the Environmental Protection Agency. Recycled cardboard is often used to make items like cereal boxes, paperboard, paper towels, tissues and writing paper. The environmental impact from plastic totes is more severe because they can take thousands of years to decompose completely
  6. Cost. Whether you use totes or boxes, cost will likely play a big role in your decision making. With both options, you’ll need to buy things like tape and packing paper so you can make sure your belongings are protected while in transit. But if you want to save a little money (of course you do!), you may opt to use boxes, because you can get a bunch of them for much cheaper than you could bins. 

What if I already have things in plastic bins? Should I still use them for my move?

While we encourage you to pack using only cardboard moving boxes, we know plastic bins are a great storage receptacle and may already be home for some of your belongings. If you plan on moving items in the bins you already have, as with all containers, use packing paper and Bubble Wrap® to protect fragile items, and be sure to fill the space in every bin or box so that items don’t shift in transit. Finally, be sure to tape the top of the bin to the sides, so nothing spills out. If you’re using bins, avoid stacking heavy items on top to ensure the safety of your belongings inside.

Make the best choice for your move 

We hope we’ve helped you determine whether you want to use cardboard boxes or plastic bins for your upcoming move. If you still have questions, please let know! We’re happy to help!