Human Hair Is a Surprising Resource for Cleaning Up Oil Spills

Oct 16, 2022by Olivia Harper - F&F

Lisa Gautier, founder of non-profit Matter of Trust, receives dozens of parcels of human hair every day. This may be startling for many, but Gautier uses these locks of all shades, to create something marvelously “green.”

Hair Mats To Clean Oil SpillsHair Mats To Clean Oil Spills

Image: Matter of Trust

Hair Can Soak Up & Absorb Up To 9 Times Its Weight In Oil!

Did you ever think that something like hair would be used to clean up the environment from petrochemicals? We didn’t! But surprisingly, hair has been discovered to be the most effective resource to do the job. Hair soaks up oil effortlessly, and can absorb between 3 and 9 times its weight in oil!

The Matter of Trust Organisation turns donated hair into mats to soak up oil spills on land, and booms (long tubes) used for spills at sea. They accept donations of hair, fur, wool, fleece, and clippings from individuals, salons, groomers, and farmers. These are sorted into stockpiles by length and manufactured into felted products that soak up oil and petrochemicals in storm drains, wells, filtration systems, rivers, and oceans!

Founders Of Matter Of TrustFounders Of Matter Of Trust

Image: Matter of Trust

How Did The Program Start?

In 1999, Lisa Gautier began a partnership with Phil McCrory, a hair stylist and inventor from Alabama. Years earlier, Phil had been washing an oily head of hair while watching CNN coverage of otters covered in petrol during the famous Exxon Valdez accident in Alaska. It occurred to him that he was cutting fibre that could be used to soak up oil spills.

There are over 2,500 oil spills a year on average. There are also over 370,000 hair salons in the US and over 200,000 pet groomers, which each cut on average one kilogram of hair/fur per day. The organisations’ motive is to divert this effective, natural, and renewable resource from landfill to clean up the environment.

Hair Boom Absorbing OilHair Boom Absorbing Oil

Image: Matter of Trust

The Positive Environmental Impact Of Hair Mats & Booms

The hair booms are much more efficient than the synthetic booms used by the oil industry for cleaning up oil spills, which sink and are hard to recover. Hair-based booms actually float on the surface of the water for easy collection.

Directing their focus to land, Matter of Trust have now started to use the products to tackle oil from cars leaking into waterways. Up to 800 million litres of oil ends up in waterways every year just from motor vehicles, which is sixteen times the amount of oil that leaked in the 2010 BP spill! Preventing the oil entering drains using their hair mats and booms is yet another terrific win for the environment that they’ve developed!

Oil spills contaminate drinking water, endanger public health, harm plants and wildlife, and damage the economy — so we are thrilled to see this new project being implemented around the world!

What do you think about these hair mats & booms? We love that they’re created from an abundant and natural resource, and prevents this useful fibre from entering landfill.

For more stories about sustainable innovations, check out our Eco News category and the blogs below.

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