I am new to Junk Run and I must admit I have never really thought about sustainability or recycling that much. Apparently putting my wine and gin bottles into the recycling bin won’t put me in the top % of eco warriors.
But wow in just over a month have my eyes been opened. We really do live in a throw away society. It is incredible the amount of stuff we accumulate and then we just throw it away so we can get more stuff.
My most recent OMG moment has been around coat hangers. Our team went and cleared out a clothing store chain premises in a suburban mall. Among the clothes and shop fittings were boxes filled with black plastic coat hangers, over 8 000. Just in one store, and they can’t be recycled.
So my mission this week was to find them a home. Because there was no way these babies were going to be sent to landfill. After a bit of ringing around I was able to find a second hand dealer who was happy to take them off our hands. Win Win. (actually it might count as a triple win as I was worried that I might have had to store those coat hangers in my bedroom until I found someone who would take them)
Below is an excellent article from Green Progress which explains very clearly what an environmental nuisance they are. It certainly makes you think. When one store alone can have 1000’s, why are we bringing more into the country? It just doesn’t make sense.
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  and Polycarbonate . 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.
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.
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.