Donated tresses and pet fur will be used to absorb Gulf spill

Your tresses or even your dog’s fur could help mop up the catastrophic oil mess in the Gulf of Mexico.
Multiple hair salons and pet grooming studios across Southwest Florida are joining a nationwide effort to collect the clippings to make booms that will absorb oil spilling into the Gulf.

Matter of Trust, a nonprofit recycling operation based in San Francisco, started an Internet campaign to gather the locks soon after the Deepwater Horizon spill.

The group has already collected about 500,000 pounds of hair, fur and wool from around the country, according to its website.

Volunteers stuff the hair into pantyhose and then wrap the pieces together with plastic mesh to create long, floating absorbent booms.

Matter of Trust came about after a hair stylist from Alabama was watching television coverage of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill and then studied how hair could sponge or mat up oil.

Yellow Strawberry, which has salons in Sarasota and Lakewood Ranch, and its partner, Fashion Focus Academy on Gulf Gate Drive, began collecting and donating the cut hair that falls on their floors last week.

Richard Weintraub, a salon co-owner, said they have already collected nearly 80 pounds of hair from the three sites.

“We’re actually telling clients that within three weeks parts of them will be floating in the Gulf,” he said.

Some non-clients have even been dropping off their hair or pet hair at Yellow Strawberry, he said.

“Donating hair is an easy way to help for those who cannot financially support the cleanup,” he said. “A haircut is something you’ll do every five to six weeks anyway.”

Hair by Hoch, at 1950 Main St. in Sarasota, is also donating client hair. A few customers have asked for drastic haircuts and unneeded trims just to support the cause, said stylist Gina Dimko.

Tracy Fippinger, co-founder of a Sarasota nonprofit marine research company called Indigo Oceanic, registered with Matter of Trust about two weeks ago and has collected clippings from 14 hair salons and three pet groomers in Sarasota.

She sent 36 pounds of hair and fur on Wednesday to a temporary warehouse in Fort Myers.

“People are energetic to participate because they feel they’re helpless and this is just a simple act,” she said.

Fippinger needs more volunteers and encourages salons and groomers to donate. For more information, visit

Hooters restaurants throughout Florida are also contributing by collecting pantyhose for the booms.

Female employees at the Sarasota location pitched the idea to the chain because they always threw out their nylons, which are a part of their famous skimpy uniforms, said assistant general manager Chris Hansard.

About four 5-gallon buckets of pantyhose have been donated at the Sarasota Hooters at 6507 S. Tamiami Trail, he said.

PETCO, a pet-supply store at 3800 S. Tamiami Trail in Sarasota, is among 1,000 grooming studios in the chain to donate pet clippings since May 7, said general manager Efton Jiles.

“Being in Florida, a lot of people like to have their dogs shaved down, so there’s a lot of hair,” he said.

Hair and fur may seem an unlikely tool for diffusing a large oil spill that is threatening the economy and environment along the Gulf Coast.

Richard Charter, a California-based consultant on oil spills for 30 years, was initially a skeptic of hair’s capability to absorb oil.

But Charter — senior policy adviser for Defenders of Wildlife — saw how well hair booms worked in the COSCO Busan oil spill in 2007 off San Francisco.

“Human hair and pet fur have a very unique ability to latch on to oil, like a magnet or an adhesive,” Charter said. “I’ve never seen another material work as well.”

Straw and cat litter were used in a 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, and cotton and synthetic fibers have been employed in other spills, Charter said.

The hair booms and mats will prove helpful along beaches and marshes, he said.

“But there’s not enough hair in the world to handle this blowout.”