Elephant Trunk Moving Supplies offers reusable plastic boxes as an alternative to cardboard. Photos courtesy of John Hancock.

June 26, 2019

For anyone moving across town in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, John Hancock of Plano poses the classic question typically aimed at grocery shoppers: Paper or plastic?

As co-owner of the family business Elephant Trunk Moving Supplies, the one-time middle school teacher is earning his keep by renting out reusable plastic tote containers and recyclable packing materials in an attempt to make the task of moving a little more convenient.

HancocksJohn and Mollie Hancock, with daughter Chloe center, are co-owners of Elephant Trunk Moving Supplies.

In so doing, he’s ever so slightly mitigating the demand for the 38 billion cardboard boxes that Corrugated Packing, an industry advocacy website, says are produced in the U.S. each year.

Elephant Trunk’s main offering is a plastic tote box in two sizes, similar to the totes used by chain stores to move products from the warehouse to individual stores. Hancock says each has an attached, interlocking lid and stacks up better and offers more protection from moisture and impact for what’s inside than a cardboard box. The ease of packing and loading shaves time off each move, helping to keep labor costs under control.

“The people who do the physical moving, actually liked them quite a bit, because it is so much easier for them,” Hancock says. “I’ve been told several times that it'll take an hour off a move, just because they are so easy - that's a cost effectiveness too because they can help pay for themselves.”

Zane Ponsetti, owner of  Wildcat Movers in Addison, said he’s used the boxes for some of his clients and has actually pushed it as an option.

“Being in the moving business, we create a lot of waste. We’re always look for ways to be more eco-friendly," said Ponsetti. "I feel better about using [the plastic boxes.] You don’t use any tape and they hold up really well.”

Although Hancock concedes that he can’t beat the cost for the mover who hits up a half dozen grocery stores and scouts for free boxes, he says his prices are competitive with moving supply retailers and he offers greater convenience. From a 35-tote one-bedroom option for $70 to a five-bedroom setup with 120 totes for $160, Elephant Trunk’s offerings compare to about what a mover would pay for new cardboard moving boxes. What’s more, Hancock says he spares the mover from having to dispose of the containers afterward, saving both resources and landfill space.

Elephant Trunk Moving SuppliesShown are packing supplies for a three-bedroom home that starts at $110 for a two-week rental.

“And you don't have to go out and get them because I deliver them to you. And then when you're all finished, I will come back and pick them up,” he says.

The business also rents out hand trucks, quilted glassware containers, wardrobe boxes, appliance blankets and recyclable and biodegradable wrapping paper -- everything an average residential move needs.

Operating the business since 2015, Hancock says he took the entrepreneurial step after leaving a lifelong career in education to help out his wife Mollie, a real estate agent who was experiencing an influx of work. He got his real estate license and helped get the workload under control. 

“But our running joke was that as a realtor, I was Teacher of the Year.”

In other words, real estate was not his calling.

So, approaching retirement age and with a penchant for being in charge of his own schedule while getting out and meeting new people, Hancock started the moving supply business, with wife Mollie and daughter Chloe, a marketing major, as co-owners.

“Mollie loves elephants, so we donate to an elephant preserve in Tennessee,” says Hancock about the origin of the business’s name.” 

Not quite yet an industry disrupter, Hancock says his business is nevertheless growing and saving movers from both purchasing new boxes and deciding what to do with them after the move.

Another plus, the boxes are made from number 1 and 2 plastic and can be used many times, Hancock said. He has not tried to recycle them yet.

"We still have almost all of the boxes that we began with," he said. "We have yet to throw a box away. In my garage at present is a stack of about 15 boxes that I believe are not rentable to customers, but they are still of use (they have cracks in the bottom, or stains I can't remove).  I either use these for personal storage or give them away. I'm sure as the business ages I will have to confront disposal, but I haven't had to up to this point."

Elephant Trunk Moving SuppliesWildcat Movers posted on Facebook in May: "Our first job moving @elephanttrunktx reusable totes. Our customers love that they are eco friendly, affordable, reusable, and no tape! Our movers love how fast they are to load and move. Win-Win!" Courtesy of Wildcat Movers.

If the results can be extrapolated from a UNESCO study that explored the eco footprint of cardboard containers versus reusable plastic totes for shipping produce to markets, plastic totes potentially generate about 25 percent less environmental impact than cardboard. The study looked at factors such as global warming potential, resource consumption and pollution, and plastic totes excelled in every factor, even when the potential for paperboard recycling was considered.

“My wife is the one with the ecological bent,” Hancock says. “And I've just always felt like you do what you can do. You always recycle and you try to use what's available to you the best ways you can.”

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