For one small nonprofit based in San Francisco, the gulf oil spill has brought long days and a national mobilization effort unlike any other.
Matter of Trust and its online database system Excess Access are proving that small grassroots efforts can make a big difference in oil spill disasters, starting with an abundant but unlikely resource…hair!
The organization receives donations of human hair and pet fur, along with used nylons to make “hair mats” and “hairbooms” to soak up oil resulting from petroleum spills nationwide, and pretty efficiently we might add.
The idea was originally developed by Alabama stylist Phil McCrory after watching news coverage of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill. Noticing how the fur of Alaskan otters became saturated with oil, he realized that hair (and fur) was a natural absorber of oil.
After testing the amount of oil he could collect with hair clippings from his salon, McCrory invented the hairmat to soak up oil from an estimated 726 million gallons of oil that enter our oceans each year.
Coverage of the gulf spill has brought national attention to the work of Matter of Trust and has sprung individuals, salons, groomers and communities into action. As of May 4, more than 400,000 pounds of hair were on the way to designated warehouses along the gulf with more arriving by the hour.
Inspired by the national effort, Earth911 decided to join in. If we weren’t wacky enough in our recycling efforts (we currently collect everything from chip bags to snack wrappers, bottle caps to batteries and makeup containers to cell phones), we decided to add hair collection to the mix! Though it raised a few eyebrows in the office, the thinking at the end of the day seemed to be “why not?”
Earth911 employees began contacting their local salons to engage them in the program, as well as family member and friends. Had we hit a new level of crazy even for us? Maybe, but it’s fun.
“Collecting hair at the office? Really?” said Stace Boehme, Earth911’s office assistant who recently joined the team. “Who does that? But after reading about the oil spill and seeing what was happening to the environment and marine life I was more than happy to pitch in and help. I even got my family and friends to start collecting.”
After just a couple days, we were amazed by the volumes we had already collected. According to Matter of Trust, 300,000 pounds of hair and fur are cut each day in the U.S. With its amazing ability to soak up and hold oil, the donated hair is invaluable to cleaning up the estimated 2,600 oil spills which occur each year.