Close up of a woman's plait

This man needs your grotty old hair to do something incredible

Other than gagging violently, what do you do when you’re unclogging the plughole, freeing it of the strangulation that is your shedded hair? I’m willing to bet that there’s one thing you don’t do: think of ways to reuse it. But someone else does, and he reckons that your split ends might be the key to protecting one of Earth's most incredible places. 

Paul Frasca is a hairdresser who co-founded Sustainable Salons Australia (SSA) with his partner Ewelina Soroko in 2015 after realising just how unsustainable the hair industry was. As a company, SSA collect, recycle and re-purpose waste from hair salons across Australia including dyes, bottles, razors, foils and yes, your old hair. Now working in partnership with over 450 salons across the country, they're on a mission to revolutionise the approach the hair and beauty industry takes to waste. And that's no small task; according to Australian Hairdressing Council, salons in the country send a total of two million kilos of waste to landfill every year.

So how exactly are Sustainable Salons Australia planning to save the planet? Well, it’s actually pretty simple, and a bit like your recycling bins at home really. They reach out and sign up different hairdressers; once they're on board, they provide said hairdressers with separate bins for chemicals, paper, plastics, metal and of course, hair. Then, they come back to collect the full bins every fortnight and distribute the contents to wherever they can be best used - some shampoo bottles, for example, are used by businesses to make frames for new glasses. In total, they manage to recycle or reuse approximately 95 per cent of salon waste. 

But it’s what happens with the hair that’s really remarkable. Once collected, your trimmed tresses are stuffed into giant stockings and turned into booms that can be used to contain and soak up oil spills along the Aussie coastline. One hair boom can collect up to four litres of oil; to date, SSA have collected over seven tonnes of human hair, with booms now being stockpiled along the coast so that if disaster does strike they'll be ready to roll. And it's not unlikely that it will either, because between 2014/2015, there were a total of 86 recorded oil spills along the coast of Queensland alone. 

How quickly hair seems to pick up grease may be the bane of anyone who can’t quite face washing their hair for a fourth time this week, when it comes to these hair booms, that’s exactly the beauty of it. "What's currently used is dispersants," stated Louise Boronyak, a Senior Research Consultant for the Institute for Sustainable Futures, explaining that these have a have a negative impact on marine ecosystems. “If we can find a different way, through the hair booms, that we don’t need to use those dispersants that are costly and have such a high environmental cost then that’s a huge way forward for cleaning up oil spills.”

The process of using hair in response to oil spills isn’t entirely new, however. It first came about after the Exxon Valdez accident in 1989, in which 10.8 million gallons of crude oil was spilled into the sea off the coast of Alaska. Since then, it has been approved for use by the United States Environmental Protection Agency and was employed after the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. But Sustainable Salons Australia is the first resource recovery programme specifically designed to bring the health and beauty industry together for this cause. 

Furthermore, when someone goes in for a seriously big chop, their plaits and ponytails are saved by the salons, collected by SSA, then passed on to the charity Variety Children’s Foundation to be turned into wigs for children living with a range of conditions, including alopecia and cancer. If that wasn't enough, they also plough all of the profits from recycling the waste back into a community project called OzHarvest, which provides meals to homeless charities. For every dollar donated, the team at OzHarvest are available to provide two meals. 

With the average price of a cut and blow dry now standing at 50 AUD in Australia, £50 in the UK and up to 67 USD in some US cities, it seems only reasonable that salons should always be looking to give their clients better value for money. And although this might not be exactly what they had in mind (we all love that cheeky glass of prosecco, after all), it seems like this is probably the best possible value: making a difference to the planet, to the lives of children and to the local community, all at the same time. Imagine what we could do if every industry had a people like Paul and Ewelina leading the way...