Cardboard or plastic: Which moving box is right for you?

If you are preparing to move into a new house or apartment, you will need moving boxes. But what kind of boxes are best for your situation and where the heck do you get them?

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While you can certainly spend your time driving from store to store begging the local food and grocery vendors to part with their boxes, renting plastic boxes may be a quicker and less stressful way to collect enough packaging boxes, but comes with a higher price over purchasing or searching for free boxes.

However, when choosing between cardboard boxes and plastic boxes, it’s not just price that you need to consider, but also convenience and time. If you choose cardboard, you need to buy or find the boxes, assemble them before packing, and take care of the empty boxes after unloading. Renting plastic boxes makes things easier.

Here’s everything you need to know about the difference between plastic boxes and cardboard boxes so you can decide whether renting plastic crates for moving makes sense for you. Want more moving tips? Check out how to do it Find out what size moving truck you need.

How does renting plastic moving boxes work?

Renting plastic moving boxes is very simple: you order a certain number of boxes of a certain size, which are then delivered to the address from which you are moving. You pack, move and empty the boxes, which are then picked up by the landlord at your new address.

You have a specific deadline for moving and returning the boxes – usually one to two weeks, but most companies let you keep the boxes longer if you keep paying.

Most companies offer a cart with every order. Designed specifically for the plastic boxes you rent, these carts allow you to roll heavy or bulky boxes across flat surfaces that may be more valuable than they seem – think books, records, or heavy kitchen utensils.

Companies may also offer helpful extras such as moving labels or cable ties to secure boxes.

Most companies that rent plastic moving boxes only serve certain metropolitan areas – U-Haul is one of the few companies that claims to operate nationwide. Therefore, check whether the company serves your moving locations. For geographic coverage, see the table below.

What are the advantages of plastic moving boxes?

If available in your area, there are many reasons to choose plastic boxes.

Comfortable. There is no assembling, no taping, no breaking, no disassembling or recycling. No more cluttering garages, basements and attics with sad cardboard cases. Once you have moved into your new apartment and emptied the plastic moving boxes, the company will pick them up and you will never see them again. And they can be easily stacked, both empty and full.

Easy to secure. Most plastic moving boxes have a locking mechanism on the top, eliminating the need for tape. And unlike cardboard, plastic boxes are mostly immune to water, hot or cold temperatures, and sharp edges (and rats).

Reusable. Environmental concerns favor reusable moving boxes. Most crates and boxes are made from recycled plastic and can be used multiple times – Providers in Miami StowSimple claims to have 400 average usages. Cardboard boxes don’t last nearly as long before they need to be recycled or thrown away. Plastic boxes also eliminate the need for disposable tape.

What are the disadvantages of plastic moving boxes?

Although plastic boxes are practical and durable, they also have some disadvantages.

More expensive. You pay a little more for using plastic moving boxes than for cardboard boxes. Even if you don’t get free boxes, just boxes cost about $2 eachwhile renting plastic crates of the same size can cost between $3 and $6 per crate.

The only exception to this general pricing rule that I have found is U-Haul. I was able to find large plastic moving boxes – 20 x 24 x 12 inches – at U-Haul for $1.50 each. U-Haul eliminates the transport truck, but it only costs $7 to $12 more to rent.

However, when I looked at the company’s website, U-Haul’s cheapest rate boxes didn’t appear to be widely available in several major cities. (In fact, there weren’t many boxes for $3.50 each either.)

Limited box sizes. While some companies let you mix and match the size of plastic moving boxes, others offer rental packages with boxes of the same size – the general standard box is 27 inches x 17 inches x 12 inches – which can make packing oddly shaped items a challenge. Some suppliers, such as Rentacrate, Denver’s Moving Boxes, and Lend a Box, offer closet-sized plastic boxes and other unusual box sizes.

Tight schedule. Even with plastic boxes you have a strict schedule. You must pack, move, and finish unpacking by the time the boxes are scheduled to be picked up. (Procrastinators might benefit from this, however, as they need a little encouragement to finish unpacking.)

More fees if you underestimate. If you need more boxes than you ordered, you will likely have to pay a delivery fee to get more, along with the additional cost of the additional boxes.

limited availability. The biggest disadvantage of renting plastic moving boxes is their limited availability. If you’re in a large metropolitan area, you probably have options. However, a large part of the country is still left out.

How much does it cost to rent plastic moving boxes?

While you can find new, large boxes for around $2 each (and less in bulk), you can rent plastic boxes for $3 to $6 each.

In favor of plastic, the more plastic boxes you rent, the cheaper the price (except with U-Haul for some reason). Renting 20 boxes might cost you $4 to $6 per box per week, but if you need more than 100, the price can drop to just $2 to $3 each.

I found a place – Utah Box Rental in Salt Lake City – that rents 20 boxes for a week for $35, or 100 for $148, which is actually slightly less than U-Haul’s cheapest rate of $1.50 U.S. dollar. However, there are no extras listed and you must collect and return your boxes yourself.

How long can you rent plastic moving boxes?

Most companies offer a one-week rate for renting plastic moving boxes, but longer rentals incur additional costs. However, some start with at least two weeks. If you’re willing to keep paying, you can usually keep the boxes for as long as you want.

Which companies rent plastic moving boxes?

Renting plastic moving boxes is nothing new – Rentacrate has been offering plastic moving boxes since 1991. Several companies deliver across the U.S., but a quick investigation into one of them — U-Haul — revealed that supplies are limited. If you’re moving locally, it may be easier to hire a local company to deliver and pick up boxes in your area.

In the table below you will find information and links to companies that rent plastic moving boxes.

Rental of plastic moving boxes

PursueGeographic availabilityPrices for renting plastic cratesExtras
Large green moving boxesOklahoma City$65 for 10 boxes for a week; $225 for 100 boxesMove labels
Am-ItIndianapolis, Nashville, New York City (Manhattan and Brooklyn), New Jersey and PhiladelphiaVariable prices between locations. From $99 to $119 for 20 boxes per weekDolly
Bins4MovesKansas City$100 for 30 boxes for two weeks; $150 for 50Transport trolleys, cable ties and inserts for plates and glasses
Blue Box ItNorth Chicago$99 for 20 boxes for a week; $259 for 60 boxesTransport trolleys, moving labels and cable ties
Borrow a trash canNorthern Virginia$129 for 15 boxes for a week; $289 for 105 boxesTransport trolleys, moving labels and cable ties
BoxBeeCalifornia$99 for 25 boxes for a week; $329 for 160 boxesTransport trolleys and movable labels
Pack it upSt Louis$102 for 25 boxes for a week; $212 for 75 boxesTransport carts, movable labels, markers and cable ties
BronkoBoxAustin, Texas$41 for 17 boxes for a week; $156 for 72 boxesDolly
Moving boxes in DenverDenver$75 for 25 boxes for a week; $175 for 75 boxesSeveral transport trolleys, moving labels and packing paper
Simple green boxMinneapolis and St. Paul$120 for 20 boxes for a week; $280 for 100 boxesDolly
Eco Box ItBaltimore and Washington, DC$79 for 25 boxes for a week; $209 for 90 boxesTransport trolleys, moving labels and cable ties
Elephant trunkDallas$90 for 35 boxes for two weeks; $300 for 125 boxesMoving labels and cable ties
Green binPhoenix$100 for 10 boxes for a week; $270 for 80 boxesTransport trolleys, moving labels and packing paper
Grizzly bagLincoln, Neb$60 for 10 boxes for a week; $190 for 80 boxesMoving labels, transport carts for larger orders
HiveBoxxSeattle, Portland, Oregon, Houston and San Diego$119 for 20 boxes for a week; $349 for 100 boxesMove labels
iCan memoryConnecticut, New Jersey and New York and$200 for 39 boxes for two weeks; $342 for 82 boxesDolly, sticky notes, cable ties
King DeadArizona, Mississippi and Utah$90 for 25 boxes for a week; $310 for 100 boxesMove labels
Pac UpSouth Florida$100 for 20 boxes for a week; $300 for 75 boxesTransport trolleys and movable labels
Piggy banksLos Angeles, Orange County and San Diego$129 for 20 boxes for a week; $569 for 175 boxesTransport trolleys and movable labels
Redi boxChicago metropolitan area$109 for 20 boxes for two weeks; $259 for 60 boxesMove labels
RentacrateAtlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Seattle, Tampa, Washington, DC$194 for 20 boxes for two weeks; $629 for 80 boxesSeveral transport carts, moving labels and cable ties
Rental boxesSoutheast Michigan$108 for 38 boxes for a week; $300 for 152 boxesTransport trolleys and movable labels
StowSimpleMiami$135 for 25 boxes for a week; $230 for 75 boxesDolly
Great boxBoston$149 for 15 boxes for a week; $199 for 30; $249 for 50; $299 for 70Dollies, movable labels and markers
U HaulNational USA$1.50 to $3.50 per box per weekNone
Utah Box RentalSalt Lake City$35 for 20 boxes for a week; $148 for 100 boxesNo extras listed
ZippGoSan Francisco Bay Area$129 for 25 boxes for a week; $329 for 100 boxesTransport trolleys and movable labels

Many professional moving companies also offer the rental of plastic moving boxes as a separate business opportunity. If you live in an area not on this list, call some local moving companies to see if they rent plastic boxes for moving.

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