Hundreds of hairdressers in the UK are working to change the impression that the hair and beauty industry is a frivolous one. Hairdressing could be turned into a circular economy by turning recyclable material like hair foils and the hair itself, away from landfills.
Environmental experts, hairdressers and eco-campaigners have founded the Green Salon Collective. According to the group, the hairdressing industry produces enough waste each year to fill 50 football stadiums. The vast majority ends up in landfill, including toxic hair colour and used foils.
The collective, which involves 600 hairdressers or salons, has been able to recycle almost 500 kg of hair and around 3.5 tonnes of metals in its first year. Any resulting profits made from recycling are donated to charity.
One of the collective’s goals is to also empower salons and other hairdressing businesses with the information and awareness to operate in a more sustainable fashion.
Although it has been long overlooked, it appears that hair that has been cut off has many uses. “The fact that 99 percent of it goes to landfill is terrifying really because that’s a lot of good material that we can use, it’s good ingredients,” says hairdresser Ryan Crawford.
Hair is a lipophilic material, meaning that it repels water but actively absorbs oil. This makes it a very efficient way to clean up oil spills, preventing the oil from damaging the environment. A kilogram of hair can absorb up to eight litres of oil, according to experts.
The idea of using hair filters originated in the United States and has already been tested in real disasters, such as when a Japanese tanker last year.
“Britain was lagging behind in recycling unwanted hair when the collective formed last summer”, says Green Salon Collective co-founder Fry Taylor. While hair can also make garden compost, chemical waste is turned into energy with the help of the collective.