We all love clothing shopping. Its a way to wind down and to buy something nice. The shirt or blouse or pair of pants we buy and take home. The hanger we dont.
So where does that ubiquitous plastic and wire hanger go after you buy your shirt? Probably tossed into a cardboard box under the counter along with the previous sales hangers. And where does the box go at the end of the day? 85% of the time it gets thrown into the dumpster behind the store. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of hangers dailyper store. And where do the hangers in the dumpster go? Carted off into our municipal landfills.
Repeat that in thousands of clothing stores and outlets and youve got upwards of 8 billion polystyrene and polycarbonate hangers clogging our landfills every year. How many is 8 billion hangers? Its enough to fill the Empire State building from basement to observation deck 4.6 times!
But why is that? Arent the hangers in perfectly good shape? Why dont they reuse them?
Within the last several years a new trend has become standard in the clothing industry called floor ready garment systems. That means hangers are put on clothing overseas at the factory and shipped to the store already on hangers. Its cheaper to do it there then it is to do it here.
Since every article of clothing has its own hanger, theres no use for hanger once the article is sold. So in the box they go.
But theyre plastic hangers. Isnt plastic recyclable? The short answer is yes, but the practicality of it is a big no.
The reality is the clothing companies dont really pay for the hangers. Its the clothing manufacturer that pays for the hanger and includes it in the price of making the clothing. So the manufacture's incentive is...? Thats right, the cheapest hanger they can find. The cheaper the hanger, the more profit they make. So clothing manufacturers in China, Indonesia, Pakistan, India, Israel, Northern Africa, Central and South America send their clothing on THEIR version of the cheapest hanger. They all kinda look alike, but theyre made of up to 7 different types of low-grade plastic: polystyrene (6), polycarbonate (7), K-resin (7), polypropylene (5)all together in one retail store.
Even if theyre thrown into a recycling bin at the clothing retailers recycling them is difficult if not impossible. Separating the different types of plastic is not practical on a rapidly moving recycling line (typically moving a foot a second). Since they all look alike (a requirement of a certifications system for hangers called VICS-Voluntary Interindustry Commerce Solutions) its impossible to see what the number is on the hanger without picking up each one and searching for its tiny number. (And since the hangers are made all over the world, lots of them dont have numbers on them at all.)
Remember the manufacturer who bought the hanger because it was cheap? The material in the hanger is cheap too. Low-grade plastic and low-grade metal. And theres all this other stuff to separate like non-slip rubber pads or gripper clips or paper labels. Its a headache for recyclers who are in the separations business to make a profit. The hangers gum up the machinery, break into parts along the way and are made of multiple, low-grade materials. Who wants to deal with that? So hangers are typically banned from recycling centers. Theyre the Kryptonite of the recycling world.
So there lies the box of plastic hangers lying in the landfill with all the 8 billion other hangers. But they dont just lie there quietly. Polystyrene, the most common material used to make hangers, leaches benzene, a carcinogen, into our drinking water. Benzene is the active ingredient in cigarette smoke. Polycarbonate, another popular material of hangers, leaches bisphenol-A, a hormone disrupter, into the ground water. Polycarbonate was recently banned in Canada for use in making water and baby bottles. Bisphenol-A has become a very prominent concern from health officials, whose testing has shown that the vast majority of people have this chemical in their bodies, most likely from plastic sources.
And how long do these plastic hangers sleep quietly in these landfills? It is estimated that it would take from 800-1000 years for these plastics to break down in anaerobic landfills, and possibly longer. Thats 40 generations necessary to break down these plastics.
All for a very short time on the rack. All for a simple hanger.
Founder, GreenHeart Global
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