Dear Recyclebank: What can I do with old hangers? I know dry cleaners take back wire ones, but I heard that many manufacturers' garment hangers are stamped #5, and can be put in single-stream recycling. Is this true? What’s the best choice of material for hangers? –Jordan W.
Dear Jordan: You may be surprised to hear that it’s actually quite uncommon for single-stream recycling programs to accept coat hangers — even if they are made of #5 plastic. Hangers are a hard-sell item for many recycling centers because they tend to jam machinery due to their small size and unique shape. Unless your hauler has expressly okayed them, you should never put coat hangers in with your recycling. Though this makes extending the life span of your hangers more involved, it’s certainly not impossible to keep them out of the landfill.
As you mentioned, dry cleaners are usually happy to reclaim your unwanted wire hangers. Though cleaners aren’t the only place you can drop them off. Many scrap-metal recyclers will also accept wire hangers — just don’t expect to be compensated for them.
Plastic hangers are cheaper to make and buy than wooden hangers, and they’re more durable than wire hangers, but they are not the environmentally responsible choice of the three. Only 15% of the 8-10 billion plastic coat hangers produced each year are recycled. The remaining 85% usually end up in landfills.
Most plastic hangers are made of #6 plastic (polystyrene) or #7 plastic (polycarbonate). Once they’re in the landfill grave, they’ll take upwards of 1,000 years to breakdown. As they do, they’ll leach toxic chemicals like Benzene and BPA (respectively) into the surrounding ecosystem. To prevent the plastic hangers in your life from going straight to a landfill, donate them to a local thrift store or Goodwill donation center.
Though wooden hangers are more expensive per unit than their wire and plastic counterparts, they last much longer because they won’t warp with use, and they are more durable. This means you’d have to buy far fewer hangers over the course of your lifetime if you used wooden ones. They also make your closet and wardrobe look sharp, which is a nice bonus. If you decide to make the switch to wooden hangers, consider bamboo, which is technically a grass, and grows much faster than trees, making it an even more renewable choice.
Finally, the best way to combat hanger waste is to reduce demand for hangers in the first place. As online shopping becomes more the norm than the exception, the retail industry’s demand for hangers should decrease because clothes don’t need to be hung on display racks for online stores. At present, however, practices such as garment-on-hanger (GOH) shipping are doing their best to keep the throwaway-hanger business booming.
GOH is a practice where individual items of clothing are shipped from the factory on a hanger, meaning the store has no need to retain hangers for reuse after the merchandise has been sold, because every new item from the factory already comes with its own throwaway hanger! GOH is the opposite of sustainable. It’s estimated that 30 to 40 billion articles of clothing come into the US already on a hanger! And sadly, very few of them will be recycled. Consider contacting your favorite clothing brands to urge them to minimize their use of coat hangers and to stand against unsustainable practices like GOH.
To minimize your personal consumption of coat hangers try a capsule wardrobe on for size; it will reduce your need for hangers and reduce the eco footprint of your closet. When you do feel the urge to shop, or are looking for something specific, opt for wrinkle resistant fabrics such as polyester, cashmere, or wool, which you can fold instead of hanging.