Non-profit organization uses hair to absorb oil spills

A non-profit organisation treats a hairy situation with an eco-friendly solution: turning donated strands into mats that can absorb oil spills.

matter of trust, an organization based on San Francisco, creates a more environmentally friendly method of cleaning up oil spills on land and in the ocean by creating mats and tubes from human hair. The method contrasts with the common practice of using non-biodegradable plastic polypropylene mats, which ironically require oil drilling to produce.

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“There are about 900,000 licensed hair salons in the United States. Each one can easily cut about a pound of hair a week,” said Lisa Gautier, owner of Matter of Trust. told CNN. “Our plan is to divert that from the landfill. It makes a lot more sense to use a renewable natural resource to clean up oil spills than to drill in more oil to use to clean up.”

Hair is much more efficient in that it can absorb up to five times its weight in oil and is more naturally abundant than plastic, Gautier said. It takes about 500 grams of hair to create one of their mats, which is 2 square feet and 1 inch thick. Each mat can absorb approximately 1.5 gallons of oil.

More than 170 oil spills occurred on land and at sea in the United States last year, and another 10,000 were spilled by tankers around the world, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Thailand and Peru both recorded major oil spills earlier this year, amounting to more than 513,000 gallons spilled into the ocean.

Matter of Trust was established in 1998 to address environmental concerns arising from oil spills and subsequent spill cleanup methods. The group teamed up with an Alabama-based hairstylist who, in 1989, created a prototype hair mat that could absorb oil.

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The group has participated in several major spill cleanup operations, including the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, which is considered the largest marine oil spill in history.

Today, salons, pet groomers and other donors send hair clippings to the San Francisco organization to create mats and tubes for cleanups. Matter of Trust has produced more than 40,000 hair mats and 300,000 tubes, according to the organization.

Aubrey L. Morgan