Matter of Trust, a company based in San Francisco, converts human hair into mats to counter problems caused by oil spills. The donated hair comes from all over the country, and despite what others might find unnerving, the company is using it for a ‘green’ purpose.
CEO Lisa Gautier of the company found an alternative way to help solve oil spills while protecting the environment. She created mats made from pure hair to divert the production of polypropylene, the plastic material used by many to absorb the oil spills on land. According to Gautier, to produce polypropylene, manufacturers need to burn oil, which means its production is detrimental to the surroundings.
Human hair is a greener alternative, says the company, and it absorbs oil five times its weight. Matter of Trust gets countless shipments from thousands of salons across the US. To date, there are 900,000 licensed salons in the country where they can outsource their raw material.
Gautier explained, “Our project is to divert this from landfill. It makes much more sense to use a renewable natural resource to clean up oil spill than it does to drill more oil to use to clean up.”
What do oil spills cause?
Oil spills are a serious problem. Not only do they contaminate drinking water and pose a danger to animals and plants, but it also affects the economy and public health.
Last year, there were over 175 oil spill incidents in the US alone, causing 10,000 metric tons of oil to be released into the environment, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports. Further, the department surmises that there are more unrecorded cases of oil spills in the US.
Matter of Trust said that a liter of oil is enough to contaminate 1 million gallons of water. This year, 513,000 liters were already spilled in just two oil spill incidents – one in Thailand, the other in Peru.
The news about oil spills in headlines only makes up 5% of the total global volume. Gautier said that minor leaks from vehicles and natural seeps are what really contribute to the bulk of spills around the globe.
The conversion process
Hair from pet groomers, individuals, and salons is donated to the San Francisco warehouse, where it undergoes tests and checks for debris or dirt before being separated and spread. The felting machine then processes the hairs so they will be converted to mats. For every 500 grams of hair, a two-foot square, one-inch thick mat is made. This single unit can absorb up to 1.5 gallons of oil.
The mats and booms created in the factory are either donated to volunteers or sold to partner organizations like US Air Force, government agencies, and other cause-oriented organizations.
Matter of Trust has delivered more than 40,000 hair mats and 300,000 booms to agencies to help them during oil spills. For example, the company helped authorities during the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Today, the company continues with its mission. They hope that they can inspire others to do the same – turn to green practices and innovation to help the environment.