The Clean Wave Program felts waste fibres into mats that soak up petrochemicals, and the organisation says human hair is the most effective of all.
Hair mats for oil spills
You shampoo because hair collects oil. Clean Wave hair mats use clippings from salons, pet groomers, and fleece farmers to make felted, oil-adsorbent products such as booms and matting.
Other fibres are used in the matting but human hair seems to be most effective
The idea of using human hair to mop up oil spills dates from the Exxon Valdez accident in 1989. Watching the unfolding disaster on television, Alabama hair stylist Phil McCory noticed how hard it was for volunteers to clean oil from otters’ fur, and thought to himself: "If animal fur can trap and hold spilled oil, why can’t human hair?"
So he staged a home oil spill to test this theory, pouring a gallon of used motor oil into his son’s paddling pool. He then dunked in a pair of his wife’s tights stuffed with clippings from his salon. Within two minutes, the DIY boom had sucked up all the oil.
He then upscaled this brainwave into a business making oil spill mats from hair purchased in China. For the past 20 years, his company has worked with the Matter of Trust charity to establish a hair recycling system to find a use for all the hair and fur cut off by stylists and pet groomers each day. As far back as 2010, the charity’s figures suggested this amounted to 370,000 pounds/167,830 kg of hair, and 300,000 pounds/136,000 kg of fur, a day in the US alone.
While fur, horsehair and feathers are also used in the booms, the charity says human hair seems to be most effective as it has less natural oil and so more capacity to catch spilled oil.
How can I donate hair/fur/fleece? Click here to find out.
“This is something where everybody can contribute.”
Matter of Trust cofounder Lisa Craig Gautier’s vision is to have 300 satellite locations around the world “to avoid the crazy carbon footprint of shipping a natural resource all over the planet.”
Ten satellite locations already exist, including in Chile, Japan, Finland, Greece, England, France, Belgium and Spain. “At Matter of Trust Chile, for instance, they created these amazing kiosks where people can charge their phones with reused batteries from old scooters while at the same time donating their hair,” Gautier told ReasonsToBeCheerful.
In Oklahoma, a husky dog rescue participates. In rural areas, alpaca farms and sheep shearers send their surplus. “People are always asking what they can do,” Gautier says. “This is something where everybody can contribute.”
What happens to the saturated mats?
“After major oil spills, the hazardous material ends up in landfills or incineration,” Gautier explains. “Landfills are not my favourite.” Matter of Trust has tried to compost used mats, and has found some success experimenting with various fungi, worms and thermophilic composting to turn the hazardous waste into healthy compost. “After 18 months, we got some good compost,” she says, “but it remains a tricky issue.”
Research & Resources
A research and resource page is dedicated to those who want to dive deeper into both the background and the science of the Clean Wave Program. Here you will find lab results, university research papers, lesson plans, demonstration videos, FAQs, useful flyers and more! LEARN MORE