Human Hair Mats That Soak Up Oil-Spills: A Solution To Keep Waterways Free from Pollution

oil spill

An average human being sheds around 50 to 100 strands of hair. Human hair has some fascinating qualities and powers. Not as fascinating as Rapunzel, but quite special. Naturally, hair and fur readily absorb oil; in fact, hair may absorb three to nine times its weight in oil. 

Lisa Gautier, who runs a non-profit organization in San Francisco named Matter of Trust turns donated hair into mats. Not only is this a great way to reuse hair that can lead to choking hazards for animals and even humans, but she also uses these mats to soak up oil spills. 

The Discovery

Phil McCroy, a hairstylist, was watching the 1989 Exxon oil spill in Alaska on television when he noticed that otters were covered in oil. Around the otters, McCroy noticed that the water seemed cleaner. Combining the two, he understood that the otters’ fur was absorbing the oil. The concept of using client hair that has been cut at salons to wipe up spills intrigued him. Phil and Lisa Gautier collaborated to enhance the idea ten years later.

The Hair We Share

The San Francisco warehouse of Matter of Trust receives daily deliveries of hair trimmings from salons, pet groomers, and private customers. The packages are examined for contaminants like debris, dirt, or lice to produce the mats. Then, the hair is separated, spread out across a frame, and put through a specially designed felting machine.

“We have what we call the hair force, people mail it (hair) in every day”. Gautier went on to say that some people might find using human hair gross or weird, however, she doesn’t.

A two-foot square, a one-inch thick mat made from 500 grams of hair can hold up to 1.5 gallons (5.6 liters) of oil.

A Solution?

Oil Spills, shockingly, are more common and frequent than we realize. Marine life is affected quite harshly when gallons and gallons of oil are spilled into water bodies causing mass deaths of sea creatures. 

Companies and organizations that handle oil spills can approach this catastrophe with the aid of these Human Hair Mats. It’s possible to make these hair mats into substantial mats that can be pulled by boats across the water! The mats wouldn’t float as a result, making retrieval simple. 

Most big oil spills are cleaned using chemicals or mats made with petroleum. The solution we currently use is not just temporary but also very harmful when it comes to the sea life we are dealing with. 

These companies could use these innovative mats to help soak up oil spills instead of spending time, money, and energy in making mats and other solutions that potentially cause more harm to the sea than to help it get better and cleaner. 

However, when we talk about marine oil spills, during one of the most significant oil spills of the time, Hair Mats from Matter of Trust were put to test after receiving a wave of hair donations and support. The hair mats get heavier after soaking the oil and causing them to sink. 

A New Approach

After this discovery, Matter of Trust decided to take their focus to a different picture but with the same goal. Our water bodies are also affected by motor oil spills that later make their way through the drain to the ocean. 

There are many ways oil gets spilled, and the non-profit now focuses on oil that drips through cars and then through rainwater or drains later contaminating the ocean. 

These drips add up to over 180 million gallons of oil spilled for a year. Hair mats from Matter of Trust are used to soak up these drips which helps the oceans and marine life sail peacefully.

Matter of Trust, according to Gautier, has produced over 300,000 booms and over 40,000 hair mats for significant cleanups, including the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and many more for non-emergency spills, including everything from decontaminating storm, drains to soaking up oil from leaking vehicles and machinery. 

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