November 28, 2014

The sustainable international house move

I’ve done the international move twice before: once when I was young I moved from Australia to the UK and eventually back again but that was before I was a parent and custodian of family memorabilia and way too much stuff.  Then from  Australia to Mexico and now Mexico to USA (LA).  The first time I packed everything in suitcases and a cabin trunk which became a family treasure for years.  The next time I had to buy boxes and packing and ye gods! Over $1200 worth of that including bubble wrap.  When it came to the point, I could not save or get rid of much of that material environmentally.

One day, we needed the space as a building project was underway.  The rubbish guys were just up the street and we gave them 100 pesos to take it all.  I could have cried.  Fabulous boxes and bubble wrap.  I only hope that some enterprising chaps picked it up at the tip and recycled it somehow (which is a possibility as they go through the rubbish with a fine tooth comb, sort it, recycle it and make a living from gleaning it.  Now we are off again and I determined I would spend no more than $150 on packing materials.  Yaaay! Success!  This is a money saving exercise that will also help the environment.

Initially I just combed Craigslist for someone wanting boxes to be removed. No luck there.  We did a Walmart and Chedraui & Mega (excellent Mexican supermarkets) run regularly to get any boxes that looked firm.  Then the removalists came to measure up.

‘You can’t use these boxes,’ they said.  ‘Especially the egg boxes.  Nothing recycled from food packaging.’  Quarantine!  Ulp, I had a couple of dozen of those, neatly packed.  So back to Walmart we went and I cursed Costco for slashing their boxes the way they do.  They are impossible to use.  Eventually, we had a windfall.  A neighbour tipped us off about new people moving in.  There was a mountain of empty packaging outside their house.  Solid boxes and even a wooden crate for pictures.  I gave the young guy some pesos and he sorted the boxes and bubble wrap for us and ultimately we have enough.  The boxes (130 of them) are being picked up on Friday.  They are all sealed, listed, solid and safe.  We hope that they will reach our new place.

And as for the transport?  We wanted to avoid the 3-4 day petrol guzzle on the back of one truck.  Our aim was for something in which the resources were shared to reduce the carbon expended.

We considered all options and by far the most environmentally logical was to send the goods by ship, combining the short trucking part with deliveries and pickups for other people along the way.  It also means that our goods will be sealed in a container and not subject to any stops and inspection apart from port-to-port.  So our children’s old treasured books, toys and even some of their baby clothes can be recycled once again.  A little hint.  These items will certainly be recycled in September this year and we are very excited.

Here is a checklist for you to think about when you are moving:

  1. Prepare early.  Do a little at a time, keep an accurate list of contents, number your boxes and their location in case you need to access something.
  2. Boxes and bubblewrap – can you access rentable plastic boxes and avoid the use of boxes completely.  Do you have towels, sheets and soft furnishings that will pad your possessions?  Popcorn is not able to be used internationally or interstate as it is food but think about accessing your materials from somewhere like freecycle.com and tell your neighbours to save materials for you.
  3. Choice of carrier is vital.  Do they have carbon offsets?  Will they combine shipping. Many do but omit to tell you and will charge you the full rate.
  4. Road, rail, sea, air:  sea will generally have a road component as ports are not always where we need them.  However, a ship is economical to run (energy wise) these days and they carry on behalf of thousands of people in the one journey and are my preferred option.  In Australia, rail was once the cheap way and SHOULD be today. The railways should be run on renewable energy and their tracks maintained and properly amortized.  But no!  That would be too easy!
  5. Do you really need all that stuff? We have definitely scaled down halving our possessions this time from the last time which was halved from the original home.  Weigh up the replacement costs and consider whether you are adding to your carbon footprint by transporting goods or more by buying new.  Doing without is often the alternative but that is a hard decision!  I am in the process of rationalizing our photo albums consolidating, scanning and unfortunately I was not finished in time for this move.  Maybe next time!
  6. Don’t forget to peel off or camouflage any old addresses on recycled boxes or bar-codes.  You don’t want your good (packed in a recycled dinnerset box) showing up on the shelves of Costco..
  7. Bubble wrap is costly but almost essential for packing fine glasses.  Consider buying a can of that expandable foam.  Put a garbage bag in the base of the box, squirt in the foam, allow it to begin to dry but close the bag and press the glasses into the foam which will continue to expand and wrap around the glasses with a protective layer.  Messy but you get good at it after a while.  I did this with leftover foam (which never keeps) so it was a way of disposing of it.
  8. If you are selling your house and moving to another place this may not be practical but think about some kind of house or contents swap in order to reduce your move.  Take only your personal items. We are renting our house out and leaving much of it here as I am sure we will be back.  But I am still taking toys and artworks galore. So our move is far smaller than when we came here.  Also, I have given Aussie stuff to so many of the local girls and it has probably had more of an impact on their lives than it would have had on my children’s.  Art materials, sewing materials –  household articles.  I have reduced!
  9. Listing objects on the front of boxes seems practical but last move every box that had a listing of ‘Toys’ or ‘Christmas decorations’ was opened by customs personnel (who are shameless in Mexico) and pillaged.  I hope it made them happy!  So instead, make a list, then cover with another piece of paper with a reduced list eg. Kitchen goods.  NOT ‘silver cutlery, crystal glasses’ or any other tempting description.
  10. Disposal of boxes.  Don’t just trash them. Our apartment block has a recycling system so anything we put in there is re-used or recycled.  However, if you can put a notice in the milk-bar window to say that you have free boxes, you may help someone just as my neighbours helped us.  For me, I am not ever throwing away bubble wrap ever ever ever again!  I am keeping it for my little eBay store!  Under the bed for now probably.  Cardboard boxes are great in the compost. They will stop it from smelling.  If you have odour in your compost, throw in a box and it will quickly absorb the yucky smell.

Enjoy the move – do use it as an opportunity to find new ways to reduce possessions and live more simply.  And welcome to your new place!

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Comments

  1. Great tips for reducing the environmental impact of moving. I have done a lot of international moving as well, and its not easy to do it in a green manner. One key thing to do is to reduce what you are moving. Use the move as a way to de-clutter your life, and start early. If you try to pack and de-clutter at the same time, it just doesn’t work. Get onto ebay early, and sell what you no longer use. Get onto freecycle with the stuff that you can’t sell. By reducing the amount of stuff you move, you reduce your footprint in a big way.

    If you are moving locally, you can think about renting plastic moving boxes, from somewhere like Beetlebox in Sydney. Beetlebox delivers clean, stackable, plastic boxes with labels to your front door for less than it costs to buy cardboard boxes. It will save you time, hassle, and help to save the planet.

    • Yes, sadly, not offered in Mexico where I was moving from. EBay is worth the struggle and their high fees and we had numerous garage sales. I am gradually scanning my photos and getting rid of duplicates or originals that have no need to be on paper. They don’t last in the tropics anyway!

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