Discarded hair from salons help with oil spill cleanup

Cutting your hair can help with current cleanup efforts in English Bay after this week's oil spill. A Canadian company has an established a program to recycle hair clippings from salons to make “booms” used to soak up heavy oil in water.

Jennifer Henry, regional director of Green Circle Salons, said hair is the best material to absorb oil. Participating salons separate used tin foils and leftover dye from the hair clippings, and the company collects the leftover hair to be recycled. The hair is then stuffed into nyloncasing, creating the boom.

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Henry said when there's an oil spill situation, they reach out to affected communities and donate booms.

"We donate the booms to anyone who wants to put them to use, whether it's a governmental organization or private cleaning company, West Coast Marine Response, the Coast Guard or just your average concerned citizen. Donate them to whomever can get them in the most expedient fashion."

When the Courier contacted Henry she was at Sunset Beach with booms, waiting for the tide to come in and start the cleanup. Currently, Green Circle Salons doesn’t have a deployment system set up with a governmental organization to get the booms in the hands of emergency responders and cleanup crews, which is why they often rely on the media to reach out for volunteers and get the booms into the public's hands.

"With gloves from the safety kits we give them, [cleanup crews] put booms in the water, absorb the oil and put the booms back into the bags we supply. Then we collect the bags."

The company also sends out an alert to the salons, asking stylists and employees to volunteer on the shorelines if they have the time.

The booms are most effectivewith heavy oil spills involving water. "Other than the BP oil spill of 2010, we haven't had any large-scale response, but that's more because of the type of oil spills where we have booms ready to go."

Henry said they have warehouses in Calgary, Burnaby, Toronto, Montreal and Chicago, but haven't had to deal with any heavy oil-based spills in water in those areas.

"We responded in Lac-Mégantic but the oil was so refined and clear that our booms weren't catching it."

The oil from the oil spill in English Bay is bunker fuel, which, according to a Material Safety Data Sheet by Kilder Service Ltd., is toxic and causes both an accute and chronic health hazard. Due to its high viscosity, bunker fuel coats surfaces quickly and is not easily removed.

Juice Salon and Estheticson Cambie Street is one of almost 200 salons in B.C. which uses the hair collection program.

 Salon manager Jennifer Cook said they've been with the program for almost two years and they have minimal garbage after separating waste in their respective bins. She fills up a regular-size green garbage bagwith hair every two to three weeks.

Henry wants more salons in their program. "We really do need more hair, and salons shouldn't really be throwing [it] in the landfill.”

For more information, visit greencirclesalons.ca.

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Note: this story has been corrected since first posted.

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