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Comparison Shopping: Cardboard Boxes vs. Plastic Containers

Planning to move or take on a storage project? Trying to determine whether it’s best to use cardboard boxes or plastic containers? We have the information you’re looking for. Here’s the short answer: The more times you plan to unpack, repack, and reuse the container, the more likely that you’ll get the best value from a plastic container.

Even companies that have a vested interest are usually more than willing to provide this basic piece of advice. Here’s what the plastic container manufacturer, Amatech, says on their site: “If you are going to be using the box multiple times, the plastic corrugate should be less than the paper. If it is a one time trip, the plastic will be more expensive. On average a [polypropylene box] is 4-10 times more expensive than a paper box (depending on style and square footage of material).”

Online Price Review

We wanted to do our own cost estimate for cardboard boxes vs. plastic containers. A huge variety of different manufacturers, material design, shapes and sizes, and shipping bundles means it’s impossible to make a definitive cost comparison. Nevertheless, by reviewing some of the price points out there, you can get the context you need to make an informed choice for cardboard boxes vs. plastic containers.

We looked at three different size containers from two major suppliers: Sterilite for plastic containers and Uboxes for cardboard boxes: 

  • This clear, 20-quart container can be had for $5/container when buying six. By comparison, this small cardboard box can be had for $1.25-$1.75/box depending on how many you need. 
  • Here’s a 30-quart container that’s selling for $8/container. The medium-sized cardboard box holds a little bit more than 30-quarts and costs between $2-$3/box when buying a 10-pack or 20-pack, respectively.
  • This popular 70-quart plastic container is $9 when bought as four-pack. This comparable 20”x20”x15” cardboard box is $5 when buying a six-pack or about $3.50/box when buying 12. 

Other Things to Think About 

  • You should also estimate how many total containers your project is going to need. Because cardboard boxes can be folded up for shipping, it’s often significantly cheaper to ship a bundle of corrugated cardboard. Indeed, most cardboard box manufacturers/suppliers offer hefty discounts for bulk orders. The vast majority of larger, budget-oriented moving and storage projects benefit from using cardboard boxes. 
  • It’s also worth considering the environment in which the moving or storage boxes will be kept. Water and moisture is cardboard’s worst enemy. It’s also susceptible to certain pests. Roaches, silverfish, termites, ants, crickets, and beetles are all insects that gnaw on cardboard. Spiders and mice may use cardboard for webs and nesting. That said, with the right storage space and a little luck, cardboard boxes can last years. 
  • The cheapest plastic containers may be on par with cardboard—in terms of both price and performance. The plastic won’t fail outright, but the top edges are likely to bow out when packed with stuff. As a consequence, the snap-on lid may not fit right after a time. These containers may still be a solution, but you should at least know what to expect. 

Leaning toward a decision, but still want to learn more before making a final decision? You can find additional information on our dedicated resource pages for cardboard boxes and plastic containers.