By: Erin Kobayashi SPECIAL TO THE STAR, Published on Fri May 29 2009
Eco-friendly salon owner June Croken would always put the hair she snipped from clients into the compost – until she read that the City of Toronto doesn’t accept hair in the Green Bin organics program.
“I was a little shocked,” says Croken, who didn’t know what to do with the natural waste abundantly produced at her Queen St. W. studio.
By chance, she saw a news brief about Matter of Trust, a San Francisco-based non-profit organization that turns donated hair into woven mats to clean up oil spills.
Croken immediately signed up. “Anyone can join the program, salons can donate hair or people with pets can donate fur,” she says. “The only thing I have to pay for is postage, which is reasonable and worth the effort.”
The process of making Oil Spill Hair Mats, invented by hairdresser Phil McCrory, is relatively simple.
Surplus hair (both chemically treated and virgin) and fur (like dog, rabbit, alpaca) are sent to the Matter of Trust warehouse in California, where the origins are recorded and the material stored.
Before being shipped to manufacture, the hair is thoroughly sorted. The finest and silkiest is felted into dread-like mats that attract and hold oil particles, a process called adsorption. The more damaged hair and hair extensions are made into booms, sausage-like netted tubes with links that surround and contain oil spills.
“Ninety-nine per cent of the conventional stuff used to clean up oil spills is petroleum-based, so they are using oil to clean up oil,” says Matter of Trust executive director Lisa Craig Gautier, highlighting the need for a more eco-friendly alternative.
The natural hair mats were effectively used in the 2007 Cosco Busan oil spill in San Francisco Bay, she says.
Where to manufacture the rugs has become a problem for Matter of Trust.
“We have watched the textile industry (in the U.S.) evaporate in the past seven years,” Gautier says.
Instead of outsourcing, she wants to set up small, green manufacturing plants in harbours across America to reduce the carbon footprint and create jobs.
The non-profit group is also testing methods of composting the oiled mats with green waste and worms to ensure they break down naturally instead of being incinerated.
Another challenge Matter of Trust faces is finding a new home for the 7,000 kg of donated hair that has yet to be turned into mats. The donations had been stored in a warehouse shared with a private recycling company that closed.
“A lot of the private recycling companies are going under. They can’t survive without selling the recycled materials,” Gautier says. “China isn’t taking the recycled materials back because (the U.S. isn’t) buying as much from them.”
Gautier hopes to find new warehouse space soon. Until then, responsible salon owners like Croken will just have to temporarily hold onto their hair.
Erin Kobayashi is a Toronto-based writer. Ecologicerin@gmail.com