Sydney barber's 'remarkable' use of hair to help save the environment

Tom Flanagan
News Reporter

If you were told this pile of stockings stuffed with human hair was the key to saving oceans during oil spills, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a joke.

But thanks to extensive research at the University of Technology Sydney, the environmentally-friendly aid has revolutionised the clean-up process with one Sydney barber leading the way when it came to finding a use for all of its store’s waste.

Grand Royal Barbers, which has three stores in Surry Hills, Darlinghurst and the CBD, donates all of its customers’ hair waste to make the stuffed stockings which are then used to make booms to soak up oil during oil spills.

A pile of stockings stuffed with human hair used to clean up oil spills. Source: Sustainable Salons Australia

The barber chain’s owner, Maria Dillon, told Yahoo News Australia she was desperate to get on board to ensure her children and generations to come had a world that was habitable.

“There’s so much plastic in this world with plastic islands everywhere in the ocean. They’ve been polluted enough and I just want it to be around for my children,” she said.

The company collects roughly seven bin-fulls of hair a week which are then collected by Sustainable Salons – a company dedicated to reducing waste in salons across Australia.

Grand Royal Barbers are the first sustainable independent barbers in Australia and Ms Dillon says she is very proud of this fact.

“We want to leave a legacy,” Ms Dillon said.

Since the success of the scheme, she said dozens of barbers and salons have jumped onboard.

Members of the Grand Royal Barbers Surry Hills team proudly posing outside their store. Source: Sustainable Salons

To cover the costs of the scheme customers pay a $2 levy, and while initially expecting some negative responses, Ms Dillon revealed all of her customers are extremely supportive of their work.

“It’s been quite remarkable really, we never knew so many people were passionate about being sustainable.”

Not only does the company donate hair, but they also recycle all plastic bottles, all razors and the foil used in hair dying.

Each store collects roughly seven bin-fulls of hair every week.

Sydney research uncovers value of hair

The concept was propelled into the spotlight following research from UTS’ Dr Megan Murray from the School of Life Sciences and then masters student Rebecca Pagnucco in 2017.

“Hair is a natural biosorbent,” Ms Pagnucco said.

“It’s been shown to adsorb 3-9 times its weight in oil.

An employee at the Surry Hills store adding hair to one of their collection bins. Source: Supplied

“Your hair gets oily and greasy – the oil basically is stuck to the hair fibres. By a similar method, it would stick to other oils, such as crude oil,” she said.

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Ms Pagnucco said with a war on plastics, traditional dispersants used to tackle oil spills were under fire, with hair the perfect alternative.

“With something like hair, there’s no value in it once you’ve cut it off your head, it’s waste,” she said.

“Hair can also be reused several times without a significant decrease in its ability to adsorb oil.”

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