Hair/Fur As Cheap and Effective Oil Slick Cleanup

With the oil spill Gulf of Mexico threatening the ecology, people worldwide are watching wishing they could help. Perhaps they don’t realize just how much they can. Human hair and animal fur can be used to help clean up the oil and stop its spread. That’s right – human hair. Hair collects oil. That’s why you have to wash it. Just as it collects oil from your skin, it also collects oil from an environmentally threatening oil slick.

After the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, a hairdresser in Alabama named Phil McCrory noticed how the photos of the otters showed the water right around them to be cleaner that the surrounding areas. He recognized that their fur had collected the oil out of the water. Hair, after all, has a natural tendency to collect oil. He went to work inventing the hair mat, using human hair clippings and a kiddie pool in his yard. He soon realized that one pound of hair can soak up about one quart of oil, and when formed into a sturdy mat, it can be rung out and reused over a hundred times!

Hair Soaks Up Oil Spills

Since the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, improvements to how we go about cleaning up oil spills have improved dramatically. Now, with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, we must act on what we have learned from that tragedy and other oil spills that have occurred since.

Alas, BP Will Not Use the Hair – …But Others WILL !

So as the story goes, BP (BP’s Critical Resources Material Management) contacted Matter of Trust on May 19, 2010, about using the mats and seemed very excited at doing so. With this news, Matter of Trust lifted their halt on donations and opened the flood gates for as much hair as possible to be donated.

Then, on May 21, 2010, another department (Ronald D. Rybarczyk BP Government & Public Affairs) called back with the message (paraphrased), “sorry, they were a misunderstanding in their first call – the hair booms are not needed and won’t be used.”

BP has made their choice, but the people of the Gulf will not let this resource go unused. Hair booms and mats are in the water now.

  • According to BP, the hair booms are not useful since they sink. Also, they say they have enough petroleum based boom already. As Matter of Trust has shown, hair booms can be made to float with the simple addition of a piece of a foam pool noodle. Also, they sit a little lower in the water than the boom does. Since all that dispersant was added to the oil, a great deal of the oil is suspended just below the surface. The hair booms catch this, while the standard booms allow it to flow underneath. Floating the hair booms, with a noodle, in shrimp bags tied in grid formation has been HIGHLY successful.Watch this comparison video of Hair Boom vs. Conventional Boom
  • But wait….the hair will NOT go to waste. Hair booms are being used. Individuals, towns, and other organizations are putting the donated hair to use. They have been approved for use by the Coast Guard.Here you can see them in use between piers in Alabama, at a harbor in Fort Meyers FL, Weeks Bay AL.

I’m not a Hair Stylist or an Animal Groomer – What can I do? – What can one average person do to help?

In the US alone, 60 million pounds of human hair are disposed of in landfills each year.

There is a lot of oil that needs to be cleaned, and everyone can pitch in to help this project be successful. Here are a few ideas of how you can use the skills and resources available to you to assist in this great project of cleaning oil spills with hair:

  • Ask your hair stylist what they do with the hair clippings they produce. If they just throw them out, recommend Matter of Trust.
  • Follow Matter of Trust on twitter: @MatterOfTrustFrom time to time retweet something of theirs to spread the word to your followers.
  • Become a fan of Matter of trust on Facebook. Stay up to date on what’s happening, and pass it along to your fans.
  • Become a local drop off site. Many people have small amounts to give. Organize a day and time when they can drop it off to be sent in one larger shipment. Perhaps you could get a local group to help you – girl scouts, boy scouts.
  • Contact your local shelter and ask if they recycle the clippings they have.
  • Teachers can encourage kids to brush their pets and bring in the hairs collected. This is also a good opportunity to teach science, global awareness, environmental studies, geography, and empathy. Teachers should check out this resource page
  • Ask your church members to bring in pet hair and old nylons to be recycled for the cause.

Where Do I Send the Hair?

How to get your hair, fur, and nylons to Matter of Trust

The receiving sites are ever-changing, because the oil is ever moving. Therefore you must register (for free) to be added to the database for the latest receiving sites. Click here to be added to Excess Access, a company who connects surpluses with needs for the greater good, for a list of current receiving sites for hair, fur, and nylons.

Booms Made From Hair and recycled nylon stockings!

Human hair and animal fur can be used to make booms. A boom is a barrier that contains an oil slick and stops the spread to the rocky or sandy shore. By simply filling a pair of nylons with hair, a cheap and effective boom can be created. Lining these booms up end to end can make a floating fence that keeps the oil away from the shore, which makes it even more difficult to clean up, and exposes the oil to more species of animals.

It is simple cost effective ideas like this one that make you remember how important grassroots projects are.