People are accustomed to recycling soda cans, newspaper and milk cartons. But not everyone gives any thought to wire hangers.
Roughly 3.5 billion wire hangers end up in landfills every year, according to the Dry Cleaning & Laundry Institute.
That staggering statistic prompted the institute to launch an initiative in January to reuse hangers.
"We were looking for something our industry could do to be more environmentally friendly. It was kind of a way for our members to get involved in something that was a little bigger," said Harry Kimmel III, communications director for the institute, based in Laurel, Md.
In January, the institute spread the word to its members to encourage their customers to bring back hangers.
The initial goal was 10 million, which was surpassed in the first month. So far, the number stands at more than 25 million.
Kimmel said the institute will set a new goal before the end of the year.
There are more than 200 businesses participating, with 16 of them in Pennsylvania. Monarch Cleaners in Altoona is the only local one.
Reusing hangers is nothing new for dry cleaning businesses, which save money by not having to buy as many new hangers. But many customers may not have known they were able to return hangers.
"Often customers wouldn't know that their drycleaners were accepting them," Kimmel said. "Now that everyone is aware they're doing it, dry cleaners are seeing an uptick in hangers."
Drycleaners are encouraged to post signs about the recycling program and remind their customers. Most hangers can be reused. Those that are dirty, rusty or mangled hangers can usually be recycled at a scrap yard.
"We've recycled hangers for years," said Don Saccol, manager at Monarch Cleaners. "They just started it, but we've always tried to recycle as many hangers as we could."
Saccol said Monarch recycles between 1,000 and 2,000 wire hangers a week.
"People were doing it for a while. In the past seven or eight years it's become more of a fact of life," said Ann Hargrove, director of special projects at the National Cleaners Association. "It's part of what cleaners can do in this economy. The economy is bad. If they can save some money and help the consumer too, that's great."