Wednesday, June 8, 2022
At an eastside salon, Fry Taylor, one of the founders of the Green Salon organization, sets out to demonstrate how to use cut hair to make anti-pollution filters. He pours water into a container and adds motor oil. He then stuffs a long cotton net with hair, which he then runs across the surface of the contaminated water. A few seconds later, it is clean again. "The hair naturally absorbs the oil and retains it," he explains.
According to experts, one kilogram of hair absorbs up to eight liters of oil. The idea of using hair as a filter to clean up pollution comes from the United States and has been tested around the world to collect oil at sea, as in the case of the oil spill caused by the sinking of a Japanese oil tanker off Mauritius in July 2020.
Waste equivalent to 50 soccer stadiums
When this collective was formed last summer, the UK was way behind in recycling, explains Fry: "Here, there is no infrastructure to recycle this waste," he says. But "we are not going to wait five or ten years for governments to implement these systems, we are going to do it ourselves".
According to Green Salon, the waste produced by the hairdressing sector in the country can fill 50 soccer stadiums a year. Most of it, including aluminum foil, dye tubes and 99% of cut hair, is sent to landfills. Another big problem is chemical waste such as dyes, bleaches and straightening product. "Currently, some 30,000 salons and 100,000 independent hairdressers are pouring massive amounts of hydrogen peroxide, ammonia and other products down the drain," says Fry. The collective encourages salons to collect these products, which are then sent to a power plant to produce energy.
In his hair salon in Spitalfields, a trendy London neighborhood, Adam Reed proudly explains his recycling system to a customer. The internationally renowned hairdresser says he was "blown away" by what the Green Salon Collective taught him. "Thanks to them, I realized that sustainability was something that was missing in hairdressing and that it is easy to integrate into our daily operations," he acknowledges.
"It's very simple, we have different containers, all labeled," he explains. Hair, protective equipment, metals, paper and plastics each have their own. The salon also recycles leftover dyes. Reed charges a 'green tax' of one or two pounds to his customers and claims that the customer response is "very positive". Salons pay 120 pounds (165 USD, 140 EUR) to join the collective.
Hair as compost
Another environmentally friendly use of hair is composting. The hair is rich in nitrogen, making it an ideal addition to compost. Ryan Crawford, a salon owner in Milton Keynes, 80 km north of London, and a member of the collective, experiments with vegetables in his garden.
On a sunny day, he shows two young cabbage plants: one, surrounded by hair, is intact and the other, planted without hair, is damaged. "The hair forms a protective barrier around the base of the plants, keeping slugs and snails at bay," explains Ryan, who also places hair directly on the soil to retain moisture. It is "a superfood for the land," he says.
In one year, 600 salons in the UK and Ireland joined the collective, which collected some 500 kilos of hair. It has been used to clean up an oil spill in Northern Ireland in May and for waterways and composting. Green Salon also collected 3.5 tons of metal, which is currently being recycled. It now hopes to export the model on a large scale to other European countries.