The minutiae of everyday life is where we should be focusing sustainability efforts. It’s the things you use every day without taking notice. Let’s look at the ever forgotten hanger. It fills our closet, hangs out in the laundry room, and holds the precious pieces of clothing we don daily. Most are made of a mixture of plastics. The environmental impact could be significant if we swapped plastic hangers for paper or another sustainable material.
According to a National Geographic article, HERE’S HOW MUCH PLASTIC TRASH IS LITTERING THE EARTH: “… in the peer-reviewed journal Science Advances, is the first global analysis of all plastics ever made—and their fate. Of the 8.3 billion metric tons that has been produced, 6.3 billion metric tons has become plastic waste. Of that, only nine percent has been recycled. The vast majority—79 percent—is accumulating in landfills or sloughing off in the natural environment as litter. Meaning: at some point, much of it ends up in the oceans, the final sink.
If present trends continue, by 2050, there will be 12 billion metric tons of plastic in landfills. That amount is 35,000 times as heavy as the Empire State Building.“
The article goes on to note:
Building Some Easy Sustainability Tips
Over the next several months I will share ten easy sustainability tips for your home. I challenge you to implement one at a time; allow it to become a part of your daily habits, then implement another. Over time each step you take will become easier. To the point where you don’t notice that you are conscientiously making great strides in reducing your environmental footprint. It’s these little things that add up and make a big difference. And they really are easy!
Let’s get to it!
Read the First Three Sustainability Tips:
- Paper Towel Alternative – Hand Towels
- Save Glass Jars to Hold All the Things
- Swap Plastic Toothbrushes for Bamboo
And now on to number four!
4. What to Do with Old Hangers
Let’s Set Up the Scene
Thinking about the impact that plastic has on the environment is overwhelming. According to the EPA’s website, “More than 35 million tons of plastics were generated in the United States in 2018, which was about 12 percent of the waste stream. Only 8.7 percent of plastics were recycled in 2018. Some types of plastics are recycled much more than others. Most community recycling programs accept some, but not all, types of plastics.”
This got me thinking: Is a plastic hanger a type of plastic that our community recycling program accepts? Curious, I gave them a call to double check. While our community recycling program is great they do not accept hangers. Hangers wreck havoc on their machinery causing them to break. Plastics need to be separated by type and since plastic hangers are made of multiple plastics, like plastic no. 6 or plastic no. 7, it is nearly impossible to break them apart and recycle. Click the hyperlinks to learn more about the plastic numbering system.
Let’s take a look at some facts from a National Geographic article:
“Plastics by the numbers
Some key facts:
- Half of all plastics ever manufactured have been made in the last 15 years.
- Production increased exponentially, from 2.3 million tons in 1950 to 448 million tons by 2015. Production is expected to double by 2050.
- Every year, about 8 million tons of plastic waste escapes into the oceans from coastal nations. That’s the equivalent of setting five garbage bags full of trash on every foot of coastline around the world.
- Plastics often contain additives making them stronger, more flexible, and durable. But many of these additives can extend the life of products if they become litter, with some estimates ranging to at least 400 years to break down.”
What Can You Do?
Reduce and reuse is the first thing we can do. Take a hard pass on the hangers being given away at stores; let them reuse them. There are stores who have recycling programs and will take back their hangers to be reused or recycled; Target, Kohl’s and Walmart (look under rigid plastics) are a couple examples.
The hangers you already have at home, reuse over and over again; save the trash bin as a last resort. If you are lucky and live in an area that takes hangers then by all means recycle them; New York City and Riverside, CA are a couple of places that accept metal hangers.
If you find yourself with an overwhelming amount of plastic hangers, donate them to a local thrift shop or see if any friends, family or neighbors are in need.
If you are trying to unload wire hangers I’ve had luck asking dry cleaners if they will take them to reuse. You can also do some crafts; like this one for example, Wire Hanger Wreath with Hearts. And last but not least look at your local scrap metal facility and see if they will take them.
What if you find yourself in need of hangers?
Shop the local thrift store or ask friends and family, they may have a stash. You can always buy a green hanger alternative if needed.
When getting our daughter’s room ready for her arrival I went on the hunt for sustainably made and recyclable hangers. Ditto hangers checked all the boxes; made from 100% recycled paper fiberboard and they are recyclable, compostable and 100% nontoxic! We will replace our plastic and metal hangers with Ditto hangers when the time comes.
SO… How Do You Actually Put this into Practice?
First, DO NOT start by throwing out all your non eco-friendly hangers.
Second, reuse all the hangers you currently have and take care to not break them if possible.
Third, if you need more hangers, check out a sustainable way to source them (from friends and family or thrift store/garage sale) or purchase an eco-friendly op tion like Ditto.
And finally, when the time comes to part with your beloved hanger do so as best as possible.
- Wire hangers can be recycled at most scrap metal facilities.
- Broken plastic hangers most likely need to be thrown away.
- Check your local Target, Kohl’s or Walmart (look under rigid plastics) about their plastic hanger recycling program. They are committed to reducing waste and will take back single use hangers to reuse or recycle.
The idea is to prolong the time it takes for a plastic hanger to get to the landfill. The bigger picture is to diminish the demand for more being made.
Push for Commercial Sustainability Accountability
While doing research for this post I found it incredibly difficult to find information and places for the end user/consumer to responsibly discard their hangers. Yet I found a lot of companies that offer these recycling services for commercial entities. It is unclear whether these commercial recycling programs will take typical household hangers but they will take the single use hangers you find (and purchase with clothing, etc…) in the stores.
Retailers claim these green practices and we should be able to use them and hold them accountable. It is not clear to the consumer what actually happens with these hangers once we drop them off. But with limited options it is near impossible to take responsibility for recycling hangers from home. So take advantage of the programs and hold them accountable!
We Can Do Our Part
Don’t be afraid to use and ask business about their recycling programs.
Let’s use those recycling programs! The only way they will become more mainstream and available is if we actively use the programs.
We have the power to purchase products that don’t come with a hanger. If there is a hanger, at check out give the hanger to the store so they can reuse it.
The way we interact with businesses speaks volumes on what we want and care about. If we stop buying the products with extra or irresponsible waste they won’t carry it.
Set Yourself Up for Success – What to Do with Old Hangers
While I wish all my hangers were made of recycled materials, were compostable and nontoxic, that is just not the world we live in. Over my lifetime I have accumulated a ton of plastic, wood, velvet and paper hangers. Would I like them to be all the same? Sure! Would I like to know they could all be recycled? Of course! But part of being sustainable is living with the items you have. Taking care of those items so they don’t end up in landfills. Disposing of those items the best way possible when the time comes. And replacing them with eco-friendly options as needed. Sustainable living is not replacing everything you have all at once to fulfill your dreams of being green. Being green is living responsibly with the things we already have.
More At Home Sustainable Practices
While you are waiting for the rest of the posts that make up 10 Easy Sustainable Things You Can Do Now please check out other sustainability practices we have implemented. See if any are a fit for you!
Our Experience with Reusable Diapers
Our Elimination Communication Journey
Reusable Produce Bags + Beeswax Food Wrap
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