How Human Hair Mats Clean Up Oil Spills
Fortunately, giant oil spills like 2010’s BP Deepwater Horizon are on the decline, but threats to the planet’s water supply remain. San Francisco-based charity Matter of Trust has found an unconventional material that successfully removes the everyday oil that creates 180 million gallons of oil pollution, or sixteen times that of the 1989 Exxon Valdize spill, each year.
Stylist Phil McCrory watched news footage of the devastation, and he had an idea. Shampoo soaks up the oil in hair, why couldn’t the pounds of hair he swept each week in his salon be used to soak up oil in the ocean? Ten years later, Phil partnered with Lisa Gautier and began to scale up, first by stuffing nylons with hair to create booms. As the operation grew, and donations of all kinds came pouring in – animal hair, human hair from salons and individuals, even a package of underarm hair from Michael Phelps and the Olympic swim team – the company switched from booms to hair mats in order to cover larger surface areas.
McCrory’s patent has expired, but Gautier decided not to renew it and Matter of Trust’s open-source technology has expanded across the globe. Today, the company is focusing on grassroots efforts and lesser-known threats to the environment. For example, hair is being used to stop motor oil on the street from making its way to the ocean, and the U.S. Air Force is testing the material to manage chemical waste on their bases.