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

December 28th, 2016 - 9:48 AM

Plastic bins vs. cardboard boxes

Trying to figure out the safest way to pack your belongings for a long-distance move can be intimidating. After all, no one wants to arrive at their new home with a bunch of damaged items. When moving, you have two packing options — plastic containers or cardboard boxes. Both container types have benefits, but factors like durability and availability can influence which option you decide to use.

plastic storage totes

Comparing storage totes to moving boxes — which is better?

Both plastic storage totes and cardboard boxes can help you complete your move, but is one the better option? We recommend using moving boxes when relocating cross country, and here’s why:

While plastic totes are great for storing pretty much anything (clothes, Christmas décor, craft supplies, toys, etc.), the way they’re manufactured makes them less reliable during transit. Because cardboard is made from corrugated fiberboard — a material that’s flexible but sturdy — it’s the most durable way to protect your items on the road. And according to the Corrugated Packaging Alliance, “Because corrugated is engineered to be innovative, lightweight and strong, it is economical to ship and provides product protection.” But if you’re not convinced, here are some other reasons why cardboard boxes are more efficient for long-distance moves.

Why you should use cardboard boxes instead of plastic containers

Boxes stack better

Moving boxes stack edge-to-edge, which allows them to hold their shape when other boxes are stacked on top. And while plastic bins can also stack, they don’t fit flush against each other. Instead, a good-sized gap is left between them, making them more vulnerable to sliding around, breaking, cracking or caving in. Check out the picture below to see what we mean:


boxes vs. totes for moving

They take up less space in the moving equipment

Some moving services — like U-Pack® — charge based on how much space is used in the equipment. Because plastic bins don’t fit snugly against each other, they actually take up more space in the trailer or moving container. Since cardboard boxes stack evenly, you’re able to maximize the space you have and pay less.

They’re more durable

As we mentioned above, moving boxes are made of sturdy corrugated cardboard, specifically designed for protecting products (including household goods) during transit. Storage totes are made of plastic and were designed for storage purposes. When in doubt, it’s best to choose the option you know will keep your items safe and sound along the way.  

They’re easier to store

Boxes can be folded and put away, but plastic totes can’t break down. If you think you’ll use your boxes again, just fold them up and store them. On the other hand, moving primarily in storage totes means you’ll have a lot left over unless you rent them (more on that later). Some could be used for storage, but what about the rest? All those containers can take up valuable space in your new home.  

Boxes are recyclable  

Cardboard boxes are recyclable, making them a great way to go green and help the environment! According to Waste Management, about 70 percent of cardboard used commercially is recovered for recycling. Because they’re biodegradable, the environmental impact is better than plastic totes — which take thousands of years to fully decompose. Here are some other statistics about cardboard from the Corrugated Packaging Alliance:

  • The average corrugated box consists of 47 percent recycled fiber
  • Corrugated product is the single most recycled packing material
  • Nearly 93 percent of corrugated cardboard produced in 2015 was recovered for recycling (and almost all of that material was recycled into new products)

Not only are moving boxes more beneficial to you during a move, but they’re also better for the environment — it’s a win-win situation!

They’re less expensive  

You might think it’s cheaper to buy or rent plastic totes because then you won’t have to purchase extra supplies needed to prepare cardboard boxes (like tape, Bubble Wrap®, packing paper, etc.). But, whether you’re moving in plastic containers or moving boxes, you’ll still want to buy packing supplies to ensure the greatest protection to your items. If you’re unsure about where to buy cheap moving boxes and inexpensive moving supplies, check out the U-Pack box store — which offers a variety of products at a permanently discounted price. Want an added bonus? All orders from the box store come with FREE shipping!    

Another factor to consider is that renting plastic containers means you only have them for a short time. Many locations rent them at a fixed rate for a certain time period (usually about two weeks). Any time after that is an additional charge, which can really put a strain on you to get everything packed, transported and then unpacked without having to pay more. But, if you use cardboard boxes, you own them. Which means you unpack everything at your own pace.

Cardboard boxes come in a variety of sizes

Unlike plastic storage tubs that only come in a few standard sizes, moving boxes are made in a variety of dimensions to protect the most breakable or unusually designed household items, such as:

Cardboard boxes also come in smaller sizes which are ideal for packing heavier items, like books. By packing books in a small box rather than a plastic tub, you’re able to keep the box at a manageable weight, which makes it safer for lifting and loading. For more options, view our U-Pack moving kits which include an assortment of cardboard boxes (and packing supplies) to fit your needs.

Should I still use plastic moving bins if I already have them?

Even though we suggest only using moving boxes, we understand you might already have some plastic bins at home. Consider packing non-fragile items like clothing, towels or blankets in them. Make sure to completely fill the tote so that items don’t shift, and then tape the lids down. Also, be aware of where you place the containers in the truck — be sure not to stack other heavy boxes or totes on top.

Choose what’s right for you

While we strongly recommend using moving boxes over plastic totes, the decision is ultimately yours. But, no matter which option you choose, check out these packing tips and loading tips for helpful information on securing your belongings for transit. And if you have additional questions about plastic totes vs. cardboard boxes, just leave a comment below — we’re always happy to help!