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Environmental Protection & Preservation

How Many Hangers does it take to Fill a Landfill?

A drop of water is a very small thing, indeed - but collect billions of drops and that drop becomes a flood.

Your typical, humble retail plastic hanger is a very small thing, too. But take the estimated 8 billion plastic hangers that are thrown into landfills every year and what you have is an environmental crisis.

It's been estimated that from 8-10 billion plastic and wire hangers are produced and sold every year. Of that number only 15% are ever recycled. Where do the rest go?

Visit your favorite clothing store and purchase a shirt or a blouse or a pair of pants. What happens to the hanger once you make your purchase? Most likely it gets tossed into a cardboard box under the counter. And where does that box go at the end of the day? 85% of the time it goes into the dumpster out back. Repeat that in thousands of clothing stores and you've got 8 billion polystyrene and polycarbonate hangers, every year, clogging our landfills.

But why is that? Aren't hangers recyclable?

The short answer is yes, but the practicality of it is a big no.

Hangers are typically made out of Polystyrene [6] and Polycarbonate [7]. Besides those two plastics, hangers can be made out of 5 other different plastics, usually of very low grade. Separating the different types of plastic is difficult if not impossible on a rapidly moving recycling line. Recycling machinery is rough on materials and most hangers break into pieces before they even make the plastic separating section (usually the last section in a recycling line). Identifying chards of plastic is not possible. Plus wire hangers gum up the rotating cams and are so troublesome that in most municipal recycling programs all hangers are banned.

Additionally there's a new trend emerging in the clothing industry where hangers are put on clothing (garments on hangers or GOH) at the factories overseas and shipped on hangers. This means that every article of clothing is already on a brand new hanger when it arrives. So when a piece of clothing sells, there's no reuse need for the hanger. So into the dumpster they go.

To put these numbers into perspective, picture the Empire State Building packed from floor to ceiling and from basement to observation deck-all 102 floors-with plastic hangers. Now multiply that by 4.6 to get the number of skyscrapers needed to hold 8 billion hangers. Or put another way 8 billion plastic hangers would fill 46,296 semi trucks full of polystyrene and polycarbonate hangers stretching 464 miles. That's bumper to bumper across the entire state of Oklahoma. Every year! It's a terrible waste.

And these hangers don't just lay there quietly in the landfill either. Polystyrene leaches benzene, a carcinogen, into our drinking water. Benzene is the active ingredient in cigarette smoke. Polycarbonate 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 plastics 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. That's 40 generations necessary to break down these plastics.

All for a very short time on the rack.

All for a simple hanger.

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