Human hair is an untapped resource for sustainability

Hair clippings have been viewed as waste for too long. Their untapped potential is absolutely staggering, and here at Sustainable Salons, we’re changing the way we view and use hair clippings. 

How many uses can you think of for hair clippings? None? You’re not alone. In hair salons across Australia and New Zealand, hair clippings are swept up and thrown into landfill. 

Here at Sustainable Salons, we’re on a mission to change that. We’ve created the first recycling program for hair clippings. 

We dug deep into the history books to see how hair has been used over the past thousand years. What we discovered was both unexpected and incredibly fascinating.  

Farmers in drought-stricken parts of Africa used to mix human and animal hair clippings into the soil. They did this because hair acts like a sponge and can hold up to eight times its weight in liquid. This strategy meant that the soil was much more resilient, and even small amounts of water went a long way.  

My grandfather, a rose farmer in Northwestern Sydney, put human hair around his roses. I never understood why, but when I dug a little deeper, I learned that this technique deters pests; the human smell of hair scares them off.  

At Sustainable Salons, we’re looking to revolutionise how we see and value hair clippings. It’s time we properly acknowledged this valuable resource. 

So, what does the future of hair look like? As one of our most sustainable and renewable resources, hair’s potential is almost limitless. 

Human hair is going through a similar revolution to wool. Once upon a time, wool was a by-product of the mutton industry. It was convenient to have but certainly not the main reason people kept sheep. Today, the market value of sheep is all about the wool – think about how many wool-lined boots you see keeping feet warm in winter! 

So, what’s the human equivalent? What’s the fur-lined boot of the human hair industry?

We’ve worked with both the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) and Queensland University of Technology (QUT) to study the potential of human hair. 

One significant achievement is the use of hair clippings to create booms. Sustainable Salons worked with UTS science student Rebecca Pagnucco to research the hair boom’s ability to absorb oil. As you can see, they look like big sausages full of hair and can soak up oil from oil spills. Each boom can soak up up to four litres of oil! 

Not only does hair soak up oil extremely well (think about how regularly you need to wash your hair), but it’s also possible to remove oil from the boom as well. Over five billion dollars worth of oil spills into the oceans every year. Using these booms, some of that oil could be removed and put back into circulation. Better for the oceans and the economy! 

In fact, Sustainable Salons has 28 tonnes of hair stockpiled from over 1000 shopfronts. Should there ever be an oil spill on the Great Barrier Reef, for example, we’ll be ready to help.  

It’s essentially the reverse of what we do as hairdressers. We take the oils off our client’s hair, and that client’s hair clippings could, in turn, soak up oil in an environmental disaster. 

It’s not just their amazing ability to soak up water and oil that makes hair clippings so valuable. 

The QUT team is working on producing light from hair clippings. Hair is made up of several different organic compounds, the biggest part being carbon. The researchers at QUT have melted away the other compounds until only the carbon is left, added some extra agents to make it luminescent, and there you have it – light made from human hair! 

It’s pretty mind-blowing stuff. 

We don’t know the full extent of hair’s potential in technology yet, but it seems promising that we might have human hair components in our smartwatches and TV screens one day. It’s cheaper and more sustainable than the components currently used in these devices. 

Some of this incredible hair technology is already in use in solar panels. It’s pretty amazing to think that the hair clippings you sweep up from your salon floor might go on to stabilise solar panels, but there you have it – the potential of human hair really is limitless. 

Human hair is organic matter, and in our experience, most types of organic matter have a TON of uses. Hair is gentle on the planet and more sustainable than you could ever imagine – it just keeps on growing!

The good news is it’s not just the hair nerds at Sustainable Salons that care about this stuff – your clients do too. Next time you’ve got someone in the chair, have a chat to them about this stuff. I guarantee they’ll be fascinated. And, if you tell them you’re part of this incredible community of hair savers, you’ll have made a client for life. 

Keen to join the movement? See how easy it is to Become a Sustainable Salon