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

Is it better to move with boxes or totes?

Plastic totes are popular for storing seasonal items, but are they good to use when moving? Their handles and tape-free lids seem appealing, and if you buy totes for your move, you could reuse them around your home. However, there’s a reason that cardboard moving boxes are the industry standard. Compare cardboard moving boxes versus reusable plastic totes to find the safest option for your move.

Plastic totes stacked in rows, showing the issue with using plastic storage containers for moving.


Comparing plastic and cardboard containers

For moves across town, boxes and totes are pretty similar. But for long-distance moves where containers are stacked and loaded for many miles or days, it’s crucial to use the best packing materials possible to keep your items secure.

Since 1997, U-Pack has been helping people move across the country, and our experience leads us to recommend using boxes instead of moving with plastic containers. Here’s why:


Plastic totes are generally pretty large, which can actually make packing problematic. If you put too many things in one tote, it can be too heavy to lift or stack. But boxes come in various sizes so that you can choose the right one for each item. Use these packing tips to determine the best-sized box and packing method for everything in your home.

Easily stacked

While tubs can be great on shelves in your garage, they can easily topple over when loaded in a moving truck. They also often have lids with lips and handles, making them difficult to stack. Boxes, however, can be stacked square edge-to-edge to maximize space.


The angled design of a plastic tote means that when stacked, the entire weight of the tub sits on the center of the lid below it, which can lead to the plastic caving or cracking. Moving boxes are made from sturdy double-walled corrugated cardboard. It’s the reason manufacturers ship everything from the factory to the store (or your home) in a cardboard box.

Environmental friendliness

The plastic used to make storage tubs can take hundreds of years to decompose completely. And while some companies offer reusable plastic moving boxes, they aren’t ideal. You’ll have to clean them out before use and then hurry to unpack before turning them back in.

Boxes are easily biodegradable and recyclable. According to the American Forest and Paper Association, the recycling rate for cardboard from 2018 to 2020 was 92.4%. When recycled, cardboard is used to make paper towels, tissues, paper, and chipboard containers (like cereal boxes).

Easy to find and ship

Depending on the season, it can be tough to find enough plastic moving totes to pack your home, and since they don’t fold at all, they can be expensive to ship. Moving boxes are available at moving or office stores, or you can buy them online at many retailers. Since they fold flat, they ship easily.


If you’re storing holiday decorations or off-season clothing in your garage, attic or closet, then a plastic bin can be a great option. However, for long-term storage, plastic totes can hold moisture, causing mildew or mold on items. Cardboard allows for airflow, and you can completely seal boxes with packing tape, protecting them from bugs or critters.


Packing materials can be a substantial moving cost, but it’s necessary to have enough packing paper, tape, and boxes on hand to protect your belongings. Because boxes come in bulk bundles, they are typically cheaper per carton than plastic tubs.

What if my stuff is already packed? Can I use plastic totes for moving?

While we strongly encourage you to use cardboard boxes, we know that you may want to utilize the containers you already have. If you plan on moving with plastic totes, we recommend:

  • Using packing paper and Bubble Wrap® to protect the items inside
  • Filling the space in the bin to stop things from shifting in transit
  • Adding tape to the sides, so the lids don’t come undone
  • Avoid stacking heavy items on top of bins
  • Only stacking them 2-3 high

Protect your belongings with the proper packing materials

It’s critical to use quality boxes and moving supplies to prevent damage. 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 leave a comment. We’re happy to help!