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What is 'hair recycling?' How your old, trimmed hair could help soak up oil spills

According to the Green Salon Collective, hair salons pack 99% of hair trimmings into plastic bags and send them to landfills.

Hair recycling

Photo Credit: iStock

Trips to the hair salon or barber don't just boost your self-esteem, they can also literally help the planet. In participating salons, hair from your post-breakup cut or emotional-distress bangs will get recycled into materials used to soak up oil spills on land and in water.

How does hair recycling work?

For those who don't wash their hair every day, we know that hair can hold a lot of oil — as much as five times its weight, actually. This absorption ability is the advantage of using hair for oil spills.

Hair recycling isn't literal — you can't simply throw it in your blue bin to recycle it. But thanks to organizations like the Green Salon Collective, you can turn your hair into ultra-absorptive tools that help our oceans. 

Hair booms are long tubes of cotton or nylon tightly packed with hair trimmings. When placed in water, they float on the surface. These attributes of hair booms could help absorb and contain floating oil from a spill, and protect wildlife from harm.

Most products used today to clean oil spills are polypropylene, a type of plastic derived from crude oil. But plastic materials can break down into small particles called microplastics that cause a big problem in our oceans.

Recycling hair is a natural alternative to this plastic that's just as effective

Why is hair recycling important?

Recycling hair to clean oil spills is a cheap, natural, and renewable way to remove contaminants from the environment and repurpose waste.

According to the Green Salon Collective, hair salons pack 99% of hair trimmings into plastic bags and send them to landfills. With very little oxygen in these landfill bags, the hair slowly decomposes and produces methane gas — a potent air pollutant driving the overheating of our planet.

Hair eventually decomposes, but the effects of oil spills are far more severe. 

According to the National Ocean Service, oil spills are harmful and often lethal to wildlife. These disasters can also wreak havoc on economies, especially those that rely on fishing and tourism.

Even on a smaller scale, like an oil spill near a residential area, this toxic oil pollution can threaten public health and imperil drinking water. Using hair mats to absorb oil spills on land can prevent this pollution from becoming more uncontrollable in our water."If you can catch that oil before it goes into drains and affects the rivers and the oceans, that's a huge step," Lisa Craig Gautier, the president of a hair recycling organization called Matter of Trust, told the Cut.

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