Are Plastic Hangers Recyclable? The Answer is a Little Complicated

Let's talk about the environmental impact of plastic hangers, recycling options, and eco-friendly alternatives.

Often, it’s the most mundane daily necessities that we end up overlooking when it comes to our own environmental footprint. Case in point: The row of plastic hangers in your closet destined to sit in a landfill along with loads more that look just the same. The question, then, isn’t just whether those classic plastic hangers are recyclable, but what their environmental impact is and what eco-friendly alternatives are available. Let’s dive in.

Related: You Probably Didn't Know You Could Recycle These Common Household Goods—But Here's How to Do It

<p>LumenSt/Getty Images</p>

LumenSt/Getty Images

The Environmental Impact of Plastic Hangers

Estimates say we use about 40 billion plastic hangers per year, notes Sara Gutterman, CEO of Green Builder Media. And for every plastic clothes hanger produced, about .16 kilograms of CO2 is generated. What’s more, hangers aren’t biodegradable, meaning they don’t break down naturally in the earth like wood, paper, or cork. “Rather, they photodegrade, which means that they break down into smaller and smaller particles,” explains Gutterman. “As the plastic degrades, plastic leaches carcinogenic chemicals like benzene and bisphenol-A (BPA) into soil and groundwater supply. If hangers are sent to a landfill, it will take hundreds of years for them to degrade.”

Sustainability expert and author Ashlee Piper adds that it’s a “step up” if the hangers themselves are made from post-consumer recycled plastic. This means that they’ve already had one life in a different plastic form and are now being reused as a hanger. However, she stresses that recycling plastic is both labor and resource-intensive, and that the pollutive and carbon impacts are comparable to the first time plastic is manufactured. “Moreover, plastic items are often made overseas where labor standards are abysmal and pollution regulation is sometimes non-existent,” Piper says. “And those items have to travel to us, meaning there are attendant freight emissions. The best thing we can do is not buy plastic hangers—or any new plastic goods, really—in the first place.” 

Can You Recycle Plastic Hangers?

So if they aren’t biodegradable, can plastic hangers be recycled? Unfortunately, recycling plastic hangers is not always possible, and in cases when you can recycle plastic hangers, it’s not always easy to do so. “Most plastic hangers are made of polystyrene—number six recycling symbol—which is a category that doesn’t generally get recycled by local recycling facilities,” Gutterman explains. “Also, some plastic hangers also have metal, so the metal would have to be removed before recycling.”

That said, there are some local recycling facilities—as well as organizations such as TerraCycle—that do recycle the number six category of plastics. You can check with your municipality to see if number six items are accepted in their recycling program, and what steps you need to take in order to prepare the hanger itself for proper recycling.

How To Dispose of Plastic Hangers

If recycling isn’t a possibility, you have a couple of options when it comes to getting rid of plastic hangers. Instead of tossing them into the trash bin, consider these alternatives.

Thrift Stores

If the hangers are in good shape, consider donating them to a second-hand store such as Goodwill or Salvation Army. These typically only accept plastic hangers versus metal or wire hangers.

Charity Donations

Also consider donating to schools, homeless or women’s shelters, nursing homes, or hospitals that can use the hangers as they see fit.

Retail Repurposing Programs

Gutterman says, “Target stores are also accepting plastic hangers for reuse as hangers or plastic gardening supplies.” Some dry cleaners may also accept hangers to reuse.

Creative Projects

There may be different ways you can repurpose your plastic hangers that you haven’t thought of yet. “I've seen some creative reuse as hangers for artwork, holders for paper towels, ribbons and crafting supplies, using parts of broken hangers as plant pot holders, shoe racks, and more,” Piper says. “As I always say, 'single-use is just a lack of imagination,' and nothing is actually really single-use.”

Related: The 14 Best Clothes Hangers of 2023

Sustainable Alternatives to Plastic Hangers

As you phase out plastic hangers, take care to purchase replacements with a much smaller carbon footprint. As a bonus, these sustainable alternatives to plastic hangers may improve the overall aesthetic of your closet. (To really earn some extra credit, consider nabbing these more sustainable hangers from a second-hand store.)

Wooden Hangers

These are heftier and more refined compared to plastic hangers, and their individual components are more easily recycled and repurposed, Piper says.

Bamboo Hangers

“Bamboo hangers are our faves,” says Amelia Trumble, sustainability expert and co-founder of Retold Recycling. “They are a very sustainably produced material that is easily regenerated, and they last a long time in your closet and look lovely too!”

Cardboard Hangers

You can find sturdy cardboard hangers for clothing, as well. These aren’t as durable as wood or bamboo, but they are one of the easiest materials to recycle.

Wire Hangers

Wire hangers aren’t very aesthetic and they can create dents or tears in your clothing. However, if wooden, bamboo, or cardboard hangers aren’t possible or desired, then this is a more sustainable option compared to plastic.

No (or Fewer) Hangers

Not every item must be hung up. As an alternative, consider reducing or eliminating hangers altogether and folding more items instead.

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