Plastic hangers are finally getting the fashion world's 'attention'

Time: 2022-03-31 17:50:43

Plastic hangers are so ubiquitous that they are often considered disposable. But now, hangers made of many other materials are emerging as an alternative to plastic hangers.

NEW YORK, United States — In a world inundated with “plastic,” the existence of single-use hangers adds to the waste. Experts estimate that billions of plastic hangers are thrown away each year around the world, most of them by the time those clothes end up in stores, and even fewer of them are used by consumers in their own wardrobes .

But according to French designer Roland Mouret, that's not always the case. At London Fashion Week in September, he teamed up with Amsterdam-based startup Arch & Hook to present a hanger called Blue — made 80 percent of plastic waste collected from rivers.

Mouret has decided to use only recycled and reused Blue hangers and is actively urging his colleagues to join him. While single-use hangers are only a small part of the overall plastic waste problem, they are one of the symbols of the fashion industry coming together to do something. "Single-use plastics are not in the luxury business," he said, "and that's why we need to change."

According to the United Nations Environment Programme, the planet produces 300 million tons of plastic every year. And the fashion industry is already full of disposable items in various forms, such as plastic clothing covers and packaging bags.

Most plastic hangers are created to keep clothes wrinkle-free as they travel from factory to distribution center to store. This practice is also known as "hanging" because the clerk can take the garment directly from the box and hang it up, saving a lot of time. Aside from the thin-margin high street stores, some luxury retailers do the same, though they may swap out factory hangers for more upscale-looking wood or other materials before showing the garments to consumers. Coat hanger.

These single-use hangers are mostly made from lightweight plastics like polystyrene and are so cheap to produce that making new plastic hangers is more cost-effective than setting up an entire recycling system. About 85 percent of waste ends up in landfill, but it takes centuries for it to fully decompose, according to Arch & Hook. If the hangers are not recycled, these plastics can pollute water supplies and poison marine life. The World Economic Forum estimates that 8 million tons of plastic are discharged into the ocean every year.

Mouret is not the first to try to solve the problem of plastic hangers. Many retailers are also doing research on this issue.

Target department store began to practice the concept of "reuse" very early. Since 1994, the company has recovered many plastic hangers from clothing, towels and curtains for recycling. In 2018, Target reused enough hangers to circle the earth five times, according to a spokesperson. Coincidentally, M&S department store has also recycled more than 1 billion plastic hangers in the past 12 years.

Fast fashion company Zara is currently implementing a project called "Single Hanger" (Single Hanger), which replaces disposable hangers with hangers made of recycled plastic. These hangers are then re-shipped back to the supplier for a new batch of clothes. "The hangers from Zara are reused in good condition, and if damaged, the hanger is put into a recycling process to create a new hanger," a company spokesperson said.

Zara estimates the program will be fully rolled out globally by the end of 2020 — no small feat considering the company produces around 450 million new items each year.

Other retailers are also trying to reduce the use of single-use plastic hangers. H&M said they are studying how to make reusable hangers to meet the company's goal of environmentally friendly packaging materials by 2025. Burberry is exploring degradable hangers made of bioplastics, and Stella McCartney has also begun to look for more environmentally friendly paper materials.

Consumers are also paying more and more attention to the fashion industry's efforts to protect the environment. A recent Boston Consulting Group survey of consumers in five countries—Brazil, China, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States—found that 75 percent of respondents felt that sustainability was “extremely” or “very much” "important. More than a third said their loyalty to a brand has changed due to environmental or other social issues.

The issue of plastic pollution is particularly troubling. A study by the Shelton Group in June found that 65 percent of Americans were "extremely" or "very" concerned about ocean plastic pollution — compared with 58 percent for climate change.

Luna Atamian Hahn-Petersen, a senior manager at PricewaterhouseCoopers, said, "Consumers, especially millennials and millennials, are paying more and more attention to the issue of single-use plastic products." Their message to fashion companies is clear. : Reach consensus or lose customers.

As more and more brands need to solve the hanger problem, some new companies have sprung up to provide brands with solutions.

London-based recycling company First Mile has begun collecting discarded plastic and metal hangers from retail businesses, which are shredded and reused in Wales by its partner Endurmeta.

Braiform supplies more than 2 billion hangers a year to retailers including J.C. Penney, Kohl's, Primark and Walmart. The company has distribution centers in the UK and US where recycled hangers are sorted and redistributed to clothing suppliers. It reuses 1 billion hangers a year, grinding up broken ones, reassembling them, and remaking them into new ones.

In October, retail consultancy group SML launched the Eco Hanger, which combines recycled fibreboard arms with polypropylene hooks, the plastic components of which can be snapped off and shipped back to clothing suppliers. used again. If it breaks down, the polypropylene is recycled and reused.

Other hanger makers are avoiding plastic altogether. They say the take-back and reuse system only works if customers don't take the hangers home, which they often do.

"We've noticed that the hanger cycle is starting to take hold, but consumers end up using hangers," said Caroline Hughes, senior product manager for sustainable packaging at Avery Dennison. The company is developing a hanger made entirely of compressed natural kraft paper and water-based glue. It is reusable and can also be easily recycled like other paper products.

British company Normn is making coat hangers out of cardboard, and will soon launch one with metal hooks to better support its transport from factory to store. Carine Middeldorp, the company's business development manager, said, "With this design, we will have a big impact on the number and use of disposable hangers." Normn currently mainly works with retailers, brands and hotels, but is also working with dry cleaners. Negotiate.

Gary Barker, founder and CEO of Ditto USA, said the upfront cost of paper hangers would be higher -- 60% in Ditto's case, because "there's nothing cheaper than plastic hangers."

Still, their return on investment can be seen in other ways. Ditto's recycled paper hangers can be used with most garments, and they are 20% thinner and lighter than plastic hangers, which means suppliers can pack more clothes in each carton. And plastic hangers require expensive molds to make, while paper can be easily cut into various shapes.

Because paper is highly compressed, "like hardboard," Barker says they're also incredibly strong. Ditto's hangers come in a hundred designs, for everything from sheer underwear to 40-pound hockey apparel. Plus, you can print on these paper hangers, which Ditto often uses inks made from soy. "We can put stamps on it or print logos, patterns and QR codes," Barker said.

Arch & Hook also offers two other hangers, one made from Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood and the other a higher-grade, 100 percent recycled thermoplastic. Rick Gartner, the company's chief financial officer, said that different retailers have different needs, and hanger manufacturers must tailor their products accordingly.

But the scope and scale of the plastics problem in the fashion industry is such that no one company or individual can solve it alone.

"When you think of fashion, you think of clothes, factories and labor, but we tend to ignore things like hangers," said Hahn-Petersen, "but sustainability is a very important issue that requires constant action and programs. to fix it."