Hair donation is hardly a new concept. Organizations such as Locks of Love and Pantene Beautiful Lengths, which provide wigs to children and women who have lost their hair because of cancer treatments, have long been popular charities for those seeking an altruistic end for their shorn ponytails.

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Now, salons across the country are collecting hair clippings to send to Matter of Trust, a San Francisco-based not-for-profit group. Founded in 1999, the organization uses man-made and natural waste to come up with environmental solutions.

Volunteers in 19 warehouses in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida stuff pantyhose with donated hair and other natural fibers to create absorbent booms or weave it into hair mats, which are intended to soak up oil before it reaches the mainland. After the booms or mats have fulfilled their purposes, the toxic matter in the oil can be broken down by microbes. Worms are then used to process the rest of the material, leaving behind nutrient-rich worm castings that can be used as fertilizer.

Although some hair-donation groups have requirements regarding length and restrictions on styling processes such as bleaching, Matter of Trust takes hair at any length, regardless of any chemical treatments. All they ask is that the hair is washed.

Robin Roberts, co-owner of The Look Salon, said her salon has a box in which she and her employees have been collecting clients’ clippings.

Roberts said it takes about a week and a half to collect a full box at her salon.

Although her clients haven’t been coming in for trims specifically to help fill the box, she said the overall response has been positive.

Nineteen-year-old Alexis Albright, a University of Missouri student and the current Miss Columbia, has been working with other local salons to collect and ship hair to the organization.

“I became interested in this organization because I’d heard about the oil spill in the Gulf and I was looking for a way to help,” Albright said. “I was preaching for everyone to help with the oil spill and for the government to do something. I thought that if I expected the government should do something, I should do something, too.”

For Albright, that meant taking boxes to local beauty salons and asking them to collect hair for her.

“Their goal is to fill up the box in a week,” Albright said.

Last week, Albright and her pageant director, Erin France, shipped 13 boxes to Matter of Trust.

“Some hair studios had two or three boxes full,” Albright said.

There’s no guarantee locally collected hair will actually be used to sop up oil along the Gulf Coast. Last month, a BP spokesman told the Associated Press that the company plans to continue using synthetic booms.

Still, Matter of Trust continues to accept hair donations and stockpile booms and mats. According to the group’s website, cities around the world are requesting hair booms to keep on hand for when smaller spills occur.

Albright plans to continue working with the salons after she returns from the Miss Missouri pageant on Saturday.

Laura Cox and the other stylists at the Clip Joint’s downtown location started collecting clippings after Albright brought her boxes in.

Cox said it only took them a week to fill the first box, and the salon plans to continue sending in hair as long as Matter of Trust accepts it.

So far, she said, her clients haven’t been coming in just to contribute to the cause, but the idea that their hair could help the oil spill has prompted a few to get shorter cuts.

“People who have had hair too short for Locks of Love or Pantene, they still want to get it cut off because they feel like it’s doing good,” Cox said.

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