Waste Solution

UK: Hairdressers find sustainable use for hair waste

UK hairdressers have formed an initiative to upcycle hair waste. In its first year, The Green Collective has recycled almost 500 kg of hair and extracted around 3,5 tonnes of metal.

In a move towards a more circular economy, hundreds of UK hairdressers have formed a collective to reuse old hair as well as hair foils.

The Green Salon Collective consists of environmental experts, eco-campaigners and hairdressers.

Each year, the hairdressing industry produces enough waste to fill 50 football stadiums, according to research conducted by the group. Much of it gets dumped on landfills, despite the potential of reuse for both hair waste as well as the aluminium foils used for high-grade dying purposes.

The collective has recycled almost 500 kg of hair and extracted around 3,5 tonnes of metal in its first year of existence. Profits made are donated to charity.

Circular solutions formulated by the group are various, including the recovery of metals contained in styling products, hair foils and hairspray cans, the conversion of toxic chemicals such as colour and bleach toxins to electricity as well as the recycling of salon plastic into similar products such as combs and colour bowls.

Overlooked so far, hair can prove a versatile resource.

It’s a lipophilic material, that is, it attracts and absorbs oil whilst repelling water. Therefore, it’s inherently suitable for cleaning up oil spills and preventing the further leakage of oil into the environment. Experts state that 1 kg of hair can absorb up to 8 kg of oil.

Hair filters have already been tested in the US as well as in the context of real-life environmental disasters as recently as August 2020, when floats made from human hair and leaves were used by Mauritians to mop up oil leaking from a Japanese ship grounded in the Indian Ocean.

“The fact that 99 percent of it goes to landfill is terrifying really because that’s a lot of good material that we can use, it’s good ingredients,” said hairdresser Ryan Crawford.

According to Green Salon Collective co-founder Fry Taylor, prior to the group’s conception, Britain was lagging behind when it came to recycling hair waste.

Human hair is prevalently considered useless in modern society. In urban areas, it serves to clog up drainage systems due to slow deterioration, occupying landfill space for a significant amount of time. People living near such sites often suffer from respiratory problems. Burning hair- a widespread practice across the world- results in the production of toxic gases such as ammonia, hydrogen sulphides and sulphur dioxide. Letting hair rot naturally in rural areas or areas with low population density is no solution either as oil, sweat and other organic material sticking to individual strands prove an optimal breeding ground for pathogens.