After many years, we are finally acknowledging the serious environmental consequences of all the cute £6 tops and £15 jeans we own. The microplastics and dyes released into our oceans during the production of these fast-fashion pieces have a truly devastating impact on our environment.
It’s great that we are finally seeing the errors of our fast-fashion ways. However, we still tend to overlook one very obvious problem that exists in every high street shop – plastic clothes hangers. Although they touch almost every item of clothing we buy, they are the environmental polluters that slip past right under our noses.
Over the last year, many of us followed the Marie Kondo method to declutter our wardrobes. We thanked our clothes for their services and got rid of any items that didn’t spark joy. We stepped back from our immaculately-organised wardrobes and gave ourselves an enthusiastic pat on the back for all our environmentally-friendly efforts.
However, with all those clothes removed from our wardrobes, many of us were left wondering what to do with our now-empty hangers.
How can we ditch the hangers?
Perhaps you opted to donate them to a local charity shop, in which case, great! You could teach the fashion industry a thing or two. The fashion industry is very badly behaved when it comes to clothes hangers. We are living in a time when convenience is king.
Many garments arrive at high street shops in a ‘floor ready’ state, i.e: the clothes arrive on the hanger. With the fast-fashion industry’s ever-accelerating turnover rate, putting each item on a hanger is simply too costly and time-consuming.
As a result, clothes manufacturers transport garments on disposable plastic hangers which are then swiftly thrown away after one use. These hangers account for 16% of the 954 million plastic hangers used every year in the UK fashion industry alone. The humble clothes hanger draws parallels to single-use items like plastic bottles and carrier bags. Notably, plastic hangers have now been dubbed the ‘plastic straw of the fashion industry’.
The scary problems caused by plastic hangers
According to First Mile, a hanger recycling company, we throw away a whopping 100 million plastic hangers every year. Some of the hangers thrown away contain up to seven different plastics and take up to 1,000 years to break down in landfill. Super crazy statistics, especially because many of us never give the hanger, (or its final destination), a second thought!
The typical hanger is made of a wire hook and a cocktail of different low-grade plastics. This makes hangers almost impossible to recycle. The materials are often of such low quality that it’s not economically viable to recycle them. Most plastic hangers end up being sent to landfill. That’s when the problem gets really bad, especially for our oceans.
Once the hangers reach landfill, the plastic starts to break down and release harmful chemicals into groundwater, air and soil. Some examples of this are Polystyrene and Polycarbonate.
Polystyrene leeches Benzene, a known carcinogen linked with leukaemia. Polycarbonate leaches Bisphenol-A, which is a hormone disruptor that’s thought to affect fertility and contribute to some breast cancers.
Does anyone actually hang up their underwear?
Smaller hangers, like the ones used to display underwear sets, are rarely used by the consumer, (who even hangs up their underwear?!) These small hangers end up in landfill and sometimes end up being blown into nearby rivers or streams.
Eventually, they end up in our oceans and birds or other marine life can become entangled in them. Plastic hangers are leaching harmful chemicals into our waterways and trapping birds and marine life in their hooks. Additionally, plastic hangers are also contributing to the 12 million tonne plastic problem in our oceans.
So what’s the solution? Do we start folding clothes and displaying them in neat piles in shops? How long would that idealistic approach last? Can you imagine the absolute carnage of trying to organise a shop front full of mismatched underwear sets and wrinkly shirts?
It is clear that we can’t fully escape the use of the hanger, so maybe we should focus on improving the hangers themselves!
A potential solution
Roland Mouret, a French fashion designer, has designed a recyclable clothes hanger in collaboration with Arch and Hook. The hope is that this ‘fully sustainable’ hanger will eradicate the use of its unsustainable counterpart. The recyclable clothes hangers are beneficial for our oceans in two main ways.
Firstly, 80% of the hanger is made from recycled plastic that has been recovered from the sea. This means we can simultaneously reduce the amount debris in our oceans and make something useful from it. Secondly, the other 20% of the hanger is made from recyclable plastic, which makes these hangers completely ‘circular’.
Roland Mouret’s hangers sound like the ideal solution to the problem that is hanging over the fashion industry. In 2019, Mouret offered to give 300 of these hangers to numerous designers at London Fashion Week. Only 20% of the designers accepted his offer, which was a somewhat discouraging start.
With the future of our oceans and our planet hanging in the balance, it is vital that we throw away our ‘throw-away’ attitude and make our fashion habits more sustainable.
So, there’s just one question left to ask, “Would you like to keep the hangers?”