Oil Hair Mats – An Environmentally-Friendly Way to Manage Oil Spills

Oil hair mats are used to clean up Ocean Beach, CA

Oil hair mats are used to clean up an oil spill at Ocean Beach, CA

Oil spills create serious environmental trouble for marine life.

2008 saw approximately 2,600 oil spills around the world, the majority from leaky pipelines, overturned oil trucks and harbor spills, along with illegal dumping and tankers colliding or running aground. 363 million gallons of oil (almost half the total oil spilled) came from used motor oil spills, much of which makes its way through our rivers and oceans.

Clean up methods include corralling oil with booms, chemical use, even burning. A excitingly new, eco-friendly option is the oil hair mat.

Lisa Craig Gautier, co-founder of Matter of Trust. a San Francisco non-profit which provides these mats, says oil hair mats were the brainchild of Alabama hairstylist Phil McCrory. McCrory had his brainstorm while watching TV coverage of the Exxon Valdez as he shampooed a client.

Natural hair has hooks on its surface area where the oil coats to, says Gautier. The hooks let you make mats and rugs. Fibers cling to each other, she says. That’s how we get wool sweaters.

“It takes about a pound of recycled hair to make a hair mat that’s a foot square and half an inch thick,” said Gautier, A mat that thick soaks up about a quart of oil and can be wrung out and reused up to 100 times.

These hair mats are part of Matter of Trust’s natural surplus division – one of three departments dedicated to providing access to necessities to help “materialize sustainable systems”. Mats are made of hair clippings donated by salons around the world and a variety of natural fibers – wool, alpaca, horse hair, dog and cat hair from groomers, even rabbit hair.

“There are over 300,000 hair salons in the US and each collects about 1 pound of hair a day. Most of that goes into the waste stream, but it should all be made into hairmats,” says McCrory.

The word’s spreading like wildfire with stylists and their customers to donate cut hair for this effective oil collector. Matter of Trust has been inundated with thousands of donors.

Donated hair is turned into two amazing products. The sausage-like boon – made of hair stuffed into recycled used women’s nylons – is used to surround and contain oil spills. The oil hair mat – a rug of hair used to “sop up” oil – can be a mix of hair and fur, or only human hair, Gautier says. “Our hair doesn’t have as much oil as other animals so it can soak up oil better,” she says.

Oil spills seriously endanger marine life.

Oil coated otters and birds lose their abilities for natural insulation, many dying from hypothermia caused by loss of natural waterproofing. Oil-covered seabirds ingest oil trying to clean themselves, getting poisoned in the process.

Volunteer holds oil hair mat at scene of San Francisco oil spill

Volunteer holds oil hair mat at scene of San Francisco oil spill

In November 2007 a cargo ship hit the San Francisco Bay Bridge, spilling 58,000 gallons of oil. Hundreds of volunteers poured onto Bay area beaches and began soaking up oil with human hair mats.

Mats were used to line tarps to wash marine animals. Oil stuck to the mats, easily pulling oil off feathers as birds were washed clean.

But the story’s bigger than just recycling and cleaning the oceans, says Gautier.

Highly versatile, hairmats are excellent for managing land erosion, for landscaping, for helping with animal rescue.

“We’re going to partner with as many non-profits and universities as we can,” Gautier said “and set up a pilot to show that every harbor should have a little green business.”

“Students can collect the hair from salons,” Gautier said, “and have a business making these mats.”

It’s a self-sustaining green business everyone can contribute to and know they’re doing something that makes a difference, she says.


3 Responses

  1. What a really great investment it was for having such initiatives on how to manage oil spills all over the Globe. Aside from being able to recycle disposed hair from salon’s and hair shops we can also be able to save our environment and save lives. It was really a noble pursuit for the person who was able to search and discover this new ways on managing one of the world problem. Hope many will help you with creating more hair mats to help many countries around the globe who has the same dilemma.

  2. My name is Kelly and I own a salon in Carrollton Va. I would like to join your group and donate hair for the hair mats. Please call me or send me some information on this program.
    Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you.
    Kelly Jo 757-879-0412

  3. i wrote the local news,NBC 15 in mobile alabama. to see if they knew about the hair matts. did not get a clear answer. please let them know about your product so we can save our beutiful coast. or let me know what i can do to get the word out, maybe i could start collecting hair here on the gulf coast, if people knew what i was talking about. thank you patrick

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