Here's a riddle for you: What uses the same amount of steel each year as 60,000 cars?
You may be surprised to learn the answer: 3.5 billion dry-cleaner wire hangers, which nearly all consumers toss in the trash.
Most curbside recycling programs don't accept wire hangers because the hooks catch on the standard recycling equipment, and the coating on the hangers can interfere with the steel-reclaiming process — which means a lot of steel ending up in the landfill — so before we kicked our dry-cleaning habit altogether, I always felt guilty that I couldn't figure out how to reuse or recycle these wire hangers.
Everything else that came from the dry cleaner I found other uses for: The bag that held shirts became a recycling bin for newspapers, and the plastic bags that covered the clothes doubled as packing materials. But those pesky wire hangers? There are only so many mobiles that you can make from wire hangers, and I knew I wasn't the only one struggling with this wire hanger dilemma!
A few forward-thinking dry cleaners allow customers to recycle their wire hangers by bringing them back to the shop, much like grocery stores that offer a small financial incentive to grocery shoppers who reuse their store-issued bags. And what if your dry cleaner doesn't want to be bothered with taking returned hangers?
- Consider looking for a new, eco-friendly dry cleaner — a Google search for "eco-friendly dry cleaner" and your zip code should return plenty of options!
- Check Earth911 to find out what specialty recycling centers will accept your wire hangers, or seek out more earth-friendly alternatives to these wire hangers.
- Any time you have the option, seek out non-wire hangers. Ditto offers hangers that are made of recyclable and made of recycled paper, as well as 100% recyclable PET hangers, white Wheatware offers hangers that are compostable and biodegradable.
Now if we could just get the dry-cleaning industry to figure out a way to make a biodegradable plastic sheathing to cover cleaned clothes — you know, something like those starch-based packing peanuts that melt in water...
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Leah Ingram is the author of Suddenly Frugal: How to Live Happier and Healthier for Less (Adams Media, 2010) and founder of the popular blog Suddenly Frugal.