The thing Green Salon Collective (GSC) members get most excited talking about with their clients is our recycling service for hair. It has been a revelation for many and of course it would be: it’s the focal point of hairdressing businesses but possibly their least thought about waste stream. Few people were ever very curious about what happened to all that hair once it fell to the salon floor but now GSC hairdressers have a new talking point when their chairs are full. 


“Did you know hair can be used to make booms which clean up oil spills?” 

“Hair is rich in nitrogen, don’t you know, and so it’s an excellent addition to compost.” 


Now, however, it is time to up our game. Sure, our two current solutions for hair waste are much more beneficial than dumping it in landfill sites around the country. But GSC is growing fast and we will be handling more and more and yet more hair waste in the coming years. Our vision from the start has been to provide truly circular solutions for all salon waste streams and our hair recycling services need to evolve if we are to keep up with the growing influx. Luckily, a good amount of work has already been done in this area where researchers, designers and other creative professionals have invented ways to make use of this waste material. 

 

Signs of potential

Keratin is a type of structural protein that makes up your hair and nails as well as wool and feathers. Keratin-based wastes, like hair, decompose slowly but that does not necessarily make them ineffective in soil. Some scientific studies have shown that keratinous wastes are excellent for slow release of nutrients making them suitable for soil amendments and fertilizers to improve agricultural soils (Jeliazkov, 2005; Reddy, 2021; Kumar, Kumar, & Kushwaha, 2021).


Others have explored the mechanical manipulation of human hair waste. Our own research partner, Sanne Visser, a materials researcher, PhD student and lecturer at the Centre for Circular Design, has been working over the last six or so years on turning hair into rope. She collaborates with a local spinning expert who spins her collected hair fibres into yarn which she then turns into rope using a machine which she designed (and made open source). Sanne uses the hair rope to make a number of objects from bags and fishing nets, to swings and dog leashes which she has exhibited extensively at museums and events throughout Europe.


To learn more about our upcoming partnership with Studio Sanne Visser where we are developing a series of virtual and physical events bringing together hairdressers and design students to explore the application of human hair waste in materials and products, CLICK HERE.


Other researchers are also manipulating hair waste using mechanical processes. Deborah Lopez and Hadin Charbel from Pareid Architecture are also London-based researchers doing exactly that. Their main interest is in using hair for architectural purposes and building materials and they have also had success turning hair into felt. We are in conversation with Lopez and Charbel to see if we can work together to bring their ideas for using hair four soundproofing, insulation and other similar applications to life.


These two architects have really pushed the boundaries of the uses of hair with their latest project, Foll(i)cle. This started with an installation at Bangkok Design Week in 2019 where participants donated samples of their hair along with information about where they lived and worked. Samples were then sent to a toxicologist in Italy who had previously researched the presence of heavy metals in hair. With their collected data they were able to create a toxicartography, a sort of environmental pollution map, of the city of Bangkok. We are also in conversation with these architects to see whether we can recreate this project with a second test city, London.

 

Don’t knock it till you chop it 

Hair has potential and not just on a person’s head. The honest truth, though, is that we don’t know exactly what will come of our research on hair until we do it. It is the biggest focus of our R&D department and we want to know everything: how it impacts the soil and microorganisms; how it impacts water; how it can be used for potting; hot it can be used in compost; how it can be used in agriculture; how it can be made into products; how it can be made into building materials; how it can be used to map human health. Everything.


Our dream scenario would be if this underexploited resource could replace problematic or resource-intensive materials or products. Think about the textile industry. Think about packaging. Think about construction. Some experts believe that the amount of human hair waste generated annually is roughly the same as wool. Considering there are well over a billion sheep on the planet, that is an enormous amount of material that can be used for good.

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References and further reading


Jeliazkov, V.D. (2005) Assessment of Wool Waste and Hair Waste as Soil Amendment and Nutrient Source. Journal of Environmental Quality, 34(6):2310-7


Reddy, C. et. al. (2021) Valorization of keratin waste biomass and its potential applications. Journal of Water Process Engineering, 40(April 2021):101707


Kumar, J., Kumar, P., & Kushwaha, R.K.S. (2021). Significance of keratinophiles in biofertilizer development from keratinous waste: Upcoming perspective. Journal of Biofertilizers, 1(2021): 95-101


Studio Sanne Visser homepage and our article


Pareid Architecture homepage and their project Foll(i)cle


Common Objective Data (2018) Global Wool Production and Sustainable Standards




Stephanie Hodgson