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Hair to the Rescue


Published May 21, 2010 at 1:20 p.m.

Probably like most of you, I have never given much thought to where my hair goes once I get it cut. Actually, I have never given any thought to it. That's why I'm getting it cut — because I don't want to deal with it anymore. I'm sure salons have some nifty disposal method (like shooting clipped coifs into space), but I haven't cared enough to inquire. Once it's cut, it serves no purpose.

Or does it? Recently, I heard about a nationwide effort to get salons to donate their hair clippings to help with the oil spill in the Gulf Coast. Now, I've heard about Locks of Love where long-tressed folks donate their luxurious mane for wigs for underprivileged kids with medical hair loss, but how is hair going to clean up the gulf? I'm gagging just thinking about it. I'm just envisioning the world's largest hair ball or drain clog.

 Matter of Truth, a San Francisco-based nonprofit, collects hair, as well as fur, for all you pet groomers out there, and felts them into oil-absorbing "hairmats" and "hairbooms." Now, if any of you have seen me after a two-week showerless bender, you know that hair is pretty good at absorbing oil. It makes sense to take a natural surplus product like hair clippings and turn them into something useful, albeit super creepy.

Here's how it works: salons, pet groomers and anyone else dealing with large volumes of hair or fur (other "natural fibers" waste like wool, alpaca fleece, horse hair and feathers are also accepted) save the material in garbage bags. When the bags get full, participants box them up and ship them to a warehouse where they will be made into mats and booms (used nylons stuffed with hair).

A number of Burlington-area salons are taking part in the heebie-jeebie-inducing clean-up effort. Chop Shop Hair Design, The Men's Room, Stephen & Burns and Indigo are just a few shops that are shipping their hair down to the gulf. Normally, says Chop Shop owner Glenn Brown, the cut hair gets tossed out with the regular trash. At Stephen & Burns, the owner composts the hair at her house. Clients at Indigo often take home the clippings to spread in their gardens to keep out varmints. Who knew the many uses of old hair?

Michelle Sautter, manager of The Men's Room, says they began collecting hair for the oil spill shortly after the BP rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. "It's something we can do to help," she says. "It's a no-brainer." All Aveda salons, including The Men's Room and Stephen & Burns, are participating in the effort.

Other Vermont companies are pitching in. Do-gooders Ben & Jerry's and Green Mountain Coffee Roasters are helping out by donating burlap sacks to cover the hairbooms. The booms, which look like gigantic fleshy worms, are created at events called "Boom BQs." Get it? Like a barbecue. For hair.

But seriously, this oil leak is bad. The busted pipe is dumping about 5000 barrels of oil a day into the gulf, threatening fish and wildlife along the coast, as well as human health. It is on track to be the worst oil spill in history. BP, which is charge of the entire clean-up, hasn't said yet whether it's going to use the hairmats and booms. But the products have been tested and given the seal of approval by NASA, so they must work. If a little hair can help sop up the mess, why not?

Below, a video about how these hair products work.