A Hairy Situation


Matter of Trust

The final product of a hair mat.

When you get a haircut, do you ever think about where your hair goes? Oftentimes it is thrown away in the garbage and sent away to a landfill, or even used in a nest by a bird. Hair can even be donated and used to create wigs for people who are unable to grow hair. Surprisingly, hair can even be used to clean up oil spills in the middle of the ocean. The Clean Wave program is in contact with thousands of salons and pet groomers across the U.S. who donate their hair to provide further use for it. They collect hair from salons and individuals to create hair mats. These hair mats are then used in contaminated waters to help absorb oil and other pollutants.

The non-profit organization, Matter of Trust, began working with Philip McCrory in 1999. McCrory is a hairstylist and inventor from Alabama who established The Clean Wave Program. The idea of using hair to clean up oil spills started in 1999 when McCrory realized hair naturally absorbs oil. He thought that if it can absorb the oils on our scalp, it can also absorb the harmful oils that are spilled into the ocean. The Matter of Trust organization in tandem with The Clean Wave program has said they will accept donations from anyone as all donations will go to help soak up major oil spills.

The Clean Wave program uses hair to clean oil spills because it can naturally absorb oil and is biodegradable, meaning it won’t cause further harm to the environment. Generally, to absorb oil, a mat made from a plastic called polypropylene is placed in contaminated areas and is then disposed of in a landfill. Polypropylene is a non-biodegradable plastic that can fill our landfills leading to even more pollution. Creating this plastic requires extensive oil drilling, counteracting its main purpose. Using human and animal hair is shown to be much more effective than polypropylene. Hair can treat polluted waters faster, while also being inexpensive, whereas polypropylene requires immense funding and takes a longer time to absorb oil. Research conducted by Matter of Trust shows it only takes 1.5 grams of hair to soak up 7.66 grams of oil. 

On average, there are over 2,500 oil spills each year, as reported by Matter of Trust. These oil spills contaminate our drinking water, kill plant and animal life, and overall negatively affect the economy. Oil spills can affect the economy by requiring billions of dollars in clean up therefore increasing taxes. In the U.S. alone, there are over 370,000 hair salons and more than 200,000 pet groomers that are all able to donate hair. The Clean Wave program works with many of these salons and pet groomers to combat this issue and treat polluted water without the use of harmful plastics that can further damage the ecosystem.