Recycling Mystery: Clothes Hangers

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When spring cleaning comes around, you’ll inevitably find some clothes to donate. As you gather shirts, pants and sweaters for donation, you may find that you have extra hangers you’d like to part with as well.

Interestingly, most secondhand clothing stores have an abundance of hangers, so they will usually accept clothing only. Before you go full Mommie Dearest, peruse some of these strategies for dealing with hangers you no longer want.

Wire hangers can be a real issue. Just ask Mommie Dearest.

Material Matters

You can purchase hangers made from a number of different materials, but the three most common hanger materials are metal wire (usually steel), plastic (a blend of plastic resins) and wood (often maple or walnut). All of them have their pros and cons when it comes to functionality, longevity and sustainability.

If you’re purchasing hangers with end-of-life in mind, stick with metal hangers. They are accepted for donation by most dry cleaners (call your local cleaner to confirm), and because steel is the most commonly recycled metal, many scrap metal recyclers will accept them.

The easiest clothes hanger to recycle? This guy right here. Photo: Adobe Stock

Wooden hangers have a reuse market because they are viewed as a higher-quality hanger. If your wooden hangers are branded (e.g., Macy’s, Nordstrom), you could offer them back to the store. Some wooden hangers come equipped with a bar for pants; you may find that local hotels accept these for use in guest rooms. And some secondhand stores will accept these hangers for resale.

Plastic hangers are the most prominently manufactured, given that most U.S. clothing is imported and arrives on plastic hangers (meaning 40 billion hangers each year). It’s also estimated that 85 percent of plastic hangers end up in landfills — that’s because you’re going to have a tough time finding anyone who will accept them, even for reuse. Your best bet is to repurpose them around the house.

Avoid the Curb

Although some curbside recycling services do accept metal clothes hangers, confirm that your program accepts them before you put them in your recycling bin. Many materials recovery facilities are not prepared for the pointy edges and awkward shape, and they can easily damage machinery. Plastic and wooden hangers are much less likely to be accepted in your curbside bin.

Even if your recycling program says it accepts “scrap metal” or “all plastic,” don’t put metal or plastic hangers in your bin unless your local program mentions them specifically.

The Future of Hangers

Manufacturers are starting to produce more-sustainable hangers, and retailers are paying attention.

  • Ditto Hangers are made of paper and have been sold to retailers including Gap and L.L. Bean.
  • Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s use black plastic hangers made of recycled content, thanks to 2011 hanger standards from the Voluntary Interindustry Commerce Solutions Association (VICS).

When buying hangers, check out local secondhand stores. You may find that you can find some like-new hangers for very little money. If you must buy new, don’t just think about price — consider how durable they are and what recycling options are available. Once you have them, try to make them last as long as possible.

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Trey Granger

Trey Granger

Trey Granger is a former senior waste stream analyst for Earth911.
Trey Granger

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