What's a recycler to do

January 22, 1998|By Dennis Shaw

What's a recycler to do

No jokes, please, about my being hung up on recycling. But I've got this closet full of clothes hangers - years worth of them that I've gotten from dry cleaners. I can't stand to throw them away, and I have far more hangers than I have clothes to hang on them.

Though I've pretty much stopped acquiring any more of them, they still seem to be increasing in number. Sometimes I think they reproduce in my closet at night.

Recycling is an iffy option. The vinyl-coated ones can't be recycled at all. The all-metal ones can, but it's not easy. They cannot be put into recycling bins along with aluminum and metal cans, because the wire can get in the moving parts of recycling machinery and mess them up.


Most metal recyclers will take them if they're mixed in with a load of scrap metal, but they don't want a big batch of just hangers. And since I don't have much else in the way of scrap metal to be recycled, I'm out of luck there. I need ways to re-use them.

A friend who does crafts takes some of them. He uses them to make body frames for dolls, or to hang things on when he spray-paints them. I've used them to hang things from rafters in the ceiling of my garage for storage.

They also work great as hooks to hang bird feeders from tree branches or eaves. And if I lock myself out of my car, they're good for sticking in the window to open the door latch. I hope I won't use many of them that way.

In any event, there still are lots more hangers than I can find uses for. I have found ways to get rid of some of them, gradually. Some thrift stores and churches will take them to use at rummage sales, and I can take them along on trips, use them in motel rooms, where there never are enough hangers, and then just leave them there.

Best of all, of course, is finding a way to stop getting any more hangers in the first place. Many dry cleaners are willing to take them back. They don't like to advertise it, however. They don't want people dropping off boxloads of hangers. It's more like a service for their customers.

Their faces don't usually light up with joy when they see them coming.

In fact, I get the impression that most of them would rather not be bothered. But they do it, and avid recycler that I am, I'd only patronize a dry cleaner who at least made the pretense of taking them.

Of safety pins and plastic bags

Many dry cleaners say they'll also take back safety pins. Small though they are, I had a quart jar full of them that I'd been saving for years.

Some cleaners even take those plastic garment bags, which is a godsend. They're the lethal kind of plastic bag that can cause kids to suffocate, and they never decompose. Several local supermarkets will take them for recycling, too. But they won't all do it, so you'd better ask first. Weis will. Food Lion won't. Some Martin's stores will; some won't. County Market doesn't take any kind of bags for recycling.

But it's the hangers that bother me the most, and it's good to know that there are ways to get rid of them. Best of all, however, is not to get any more of them in the first place.

I accomplished that when I stopped buying clothes that need ironing. I think "drip dry" is one of the greatest inventions of the 20th century. If a piece of clothing has to be ironed, it's history.

From there I moved on to not buying clothes that need to be dry-cleaned. I know that's hard for some people to do, but it's easy for me, since I don't go into a fancy office every day, and I certainly don't go to posh parties.

I can pretty much wear what I want. Just give me the old drip-dry costume, and I'm happy.

Sometimes I feel a little guilty about that, as if I'm single-handedly putting dry cleaners out of business. Then I tell myself they should be happy to be out of a job like that, since they have to work all day around chemicals that might cause cancer.

I'm no chemical expert, but it does sound ominous. New Yorkers are up in arms because the city allows dry cleaners in apartment buildings. The residents are afraid they'll get cancer and kidney and nerve problems.

Also, I keep reading how I should take the plastic bags off newly cleaned clothes and let them air outside before allowing them in the house. I don't know if it's that bad, but they do smell funny for a while.

However, most dry cleaners don't want to go out of business, and I don't want to be responsible for putting them there. All I want to do is get rid of those hangers. Then I can get hung up on trying to get rid of something else. A recycler's work is never done.

Dennis Shaw is a former Herald-Mail editor. Write him at P.O. Box 276, Clear Spring, Md. 21722, or call 301-842-3863.

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