The Best Way to Absorb Oil Spills Just Might Be Human Hair


A person demonstrates how hair can be used to clean up oil spills.

A person demonstrates how hair can be used to clean up oil spills.
Screenshot: Circle of Trust via Youtube

Do you ever wonder where your hair goes after you get it cut? The answer is probably “the trash.” But in some cases, it may end up with Matter of Trust, an environmental charity based in San Francisco that turns donated hair into mats used to soak up oil spills on land and at sea.

What Matter of Trust Does

Usually, oil spills on land are cleaned up using mats made of polypropylene, a non-biodegradable plastic; as CNN reports, these mats get thrown into a landfill after one use. Hair, of course, is environmentally friendly (since it comes from your head) and renewable (again, grows on your head), and it can soak up about five times its weight in oil, according to Matter of Trust.

“Our project is to divert [hair] from landfill[s],” Lisa Gautier, who runs Matter of Trust, said. “It makes much more sense to use a renewable natural resource to clean up oil spills than it does to drill more oil to use to clean up.”

Watch this video to find out how you can donate your own hair to Matter of Trust:

How Hair Can Clean an Oil Spill

According to Matter of Trust, it takes 500 grams of hair to create a two-square-foot mat that’s an inch thick. That’s enough hair to collect up to 1.5 gallons of spilled oil. Not too shabby.

Another advantage of using hair is that it actually costs less than conventional materials and is “globally accessible as a recycled material,” Gautier says.

While hair is obviously abundant, it can still be a little tricky to get enough of it. Gautier says there are about 900,000 licensed hair salons in the U.S., and they can cut around one pound of hair a week.

The organization has been around since 1998, when Gautier founded it with her partner Patrice.

If you’re feeling brave, you too can cut some of your locks and clean an oil spill in your garage. Please share pics, because I want to see that mess.

“Anyone can make a hair mat,” Gautier says. “It creates green jobs, it cleans water, it reduces waste in landfill, and it’s promoting renewable resources.”

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