HomeEnvironmentHuman Hair used to clean up oil spills

Human Hair used to clean up oil spills

Not-for-profit, Matter of Trust, is leading the circular economy; but not in a way you might expect. They are reusing hair and fur donated from salons and pet groomers to create mats and oil booms to clean up oil spills and to prevent oil reaching waterways. The non-profit group has a round-the-world team who volunteer their time to make and send out these devices.

Why Hair?

Hair and fur naturally soak up oil easily; in fact hair can absorb between 3 and 9 times its weight in oil. The hair booms are much more efficient than the petroleum-based synthetic booms used by the oil industry for cleaning up oil spills too. Commercially used petroleum booms sink and are hard to recover. However hair-based blooms actually float on the surface of the water for easy collection.

Matter of Trust was founded by Lisa Gautier in 2000 to try and help solve the problem of cleaning up oil spills. But the idea of using hair to clean up oil spills started much earlier. In 1989 hair stylist Phil McCroy was watching the Exxon oil spill in Alaska on TV, which showed otters covered in oil. McCroy noticed that the water around the otters was cleaner. Putting two and two together, he realised that the otters’ fur was in fact soaking up the oil. He wondered about the idea of using hair cut from clients in salons to clean up spills. Ten years later Phil partnered up with Lisa Gautier to expand the project.

People now donate hair from all over the world, with hair regularly coming from over 30 different countries. Gautier said “We have what we call the hair force, people mail it (hair) in every day”. Gautier went on to say that some people might find using human hair gross or weird, however she doesn’t.

“I don’t find it gross at all, I have a lot of hair and it doesn’t bother me,” adding that using human hair ‘adds to the charm of it’.

The positive impact

Phil McCrory, hair mat inventor, and Lisa Gautier, Matter of Trust founder.
Phil McCrory, hair mat inventor, and Lisa Gautier, Matter of Trust founder. Matter of Trust

The hair mats made by Matter of Trust have been used for countless oil spills, including one of the world’s most high-profile oil spills, the BP spill in the gulf of Mexico in 2010. Donations were coming in thick and fast in response to the spill. The non-profit packed 19 warehouses, each one 100,000 square feet filled with donated hair and fur. Volunteers were recruited en masse to deploy the hair mats at the spill site.

Matter of Trust is now using their hair boons in another innovative way. They have started to use their hair boons to tackle another environmental hazard- run off oil from cars leaking into our waterways. Up to 800 million litres of oil ends up in waterways every year- just from motor vehicles. This is sixteen times the amount of oil that leaked in the 2010 BP spill. Preventing the oil entering drains using their hair mats and boons will potentially have an extremely positive environmental impact.

If you are interested in donating hair or volunteering you can find out more at matteroftrust.org

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