Skip to main content

Disposable Hangers Are as Bad for the Environment as Plastic Straws, Study Finds

If you thought plastic straws were bad for the environment, just wait till you hear what disposable hangers are doing to the planet.

Tens of billions of clothes hangers, typically clad in polystyrene, wind up in the landfill annually, according to Braiform, a U.K.-based firm that supplies, reuses and recycles more than a billion of the things, from tiny baby-shoe clips to longer trouser bars.

The company operates several distribution centers in Sheffield, England, and the United States, where retailers can return used hangers. Hangers that are in good shape are sorted, repackaged and sent back out into the world. Hangers that are not, on the other hand, are shredded, delivered to a compounder and transformed into new products, including more hangers.

By reusing its hangers an average of nine times rather than once, Braiform estimates that it diverts more than 35,000 metric tons of plastic and slashes carbon emissions by 79 percent each year. (To eliminate reporting bias, Braiform had its research verified by the not-for-profit Carbon Trust.)

More crucially for its clients, which include Bon-Ton, J.C. Penney, Kohl’s, Mothercare, Primark, Target and Walmart, it also saves them money. 

The issue of plastic straws and their impact on the environment has quickly come to the fore in recent weeks as more companies commit to eliminating the use of them altogether. Might plastic hangers see similar sanctions next?

Certainly reusing 1 billion hangers per year saves the same amount of carbon dioxide that manufacturing 10.6 plastic straws generates, Braiform asserted. That’s as much carbon dioxide as flying around the world 19 times, cranking out 4 billion-plus plastic bags or taking 9,000 London black cabs for a spin.

Single-use plastics, as it turns out, are an environment scourge, whether they’re a conduit for a refreshing beverage or they keep wrinkles off a dinner jacket, said Jim Collingham, head of reuse operations at Braiform, which is a member of the U.K. Plastics Pact and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, as well as a partner of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

“By adopting a more circular-economy model, retailers can become more sustainable, which is better for both the environment and their customers,” he said. “We hope that this research helps bring plastic hangers into the wider public debate about the impact on our environment of single-use plastics.”