Group uses hair and animal fur to clean up oil spills

As the massive oil slick spreads throughout the northern Gulf of Mexico, a number of grassroots organizations that focus on oil spill cleanup are coming to light. Matter of Trust, for instance, is a San Francisco-based charitable operation that finds uses for manmade and natural surpluses in healthy, environmentally friendly ways. One of the surpluses Matter of Trust uses is human and pet hair, which the organization’s workers convert into oil recovery mats and booms used to combat oil spills.

Human and animal hair (including waste wool clippings) and feathers are naturally extremely oil absorbent, so they are the perfect natural material to use for oil recovery efforts. One pound of hair can quickly absorb one quart of oil. About 300,000 pounds of hair are also cut in the United States every day, so there is an incredible abundance of the material. The main problem, of course, is collecting all of that hair.

Hair donations arrive at Matter of Trust’s facilities in boxes shipped by environmentally conscious salons and pet groomers in all parts of the U.S. The organization warehouses the shipments as it receives them and then weaves them into oil absorbent dense mats and booms.

The organization quickly mobilized after BP’s oil rig exploded and sunk, opening 12 locations throughout Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida to receive hair and coordinate volunteer efforts. Hundreds of volunteers are hosting “Boom B Q” parties, where participants will gather to create the booms.

To create an oil boom using hair, workers cut the legs off of pantyhose and then pull them over a section of PVC pipe. The hair is then packed into the hose using a plunger or other object and the ends of the hose are zip tied. The boom is then ready to collect a surprising amount of oil from the water and beaches.

On average, 2,600 oil spills occur every year, releasing 726 million gallons of oil into the ocean. An additional 262 million gallons of oil are washed into our waterways from land and rivers, half of which is used motor oil dumped illegally. Just one quart of oil contaminates one million gallons of water.

For information on getting involved in Matter of Trust’s oil boom program, visit the organization’s website.