Discarded human hair is now being used to clean up pollutants

One kilogram of hair can absorb seven to eight liters of oil and hydrocarbons.
Loukia Papadopoulos
Hair can be so much more than a wig.jpg
Hair can be so much more than a wig.

powerofforever/iStock 

Human hair is being used by a Belgian NGO called Dung Dung to absorb environmental pollutants in an initiative referred to as the Hair Recycle Project, according to a report by EuroNews published on Thursday.

Hair clippings are collected from hairdressers across the country and fed into a machine that turns them into matted squares that can be used to absorb oil and other hydrocarbons polluting the environment. 

The hairy mats are then placed in drains to soak up pollution in water before it reaches a river or to deal with pollution problems due to flooding.

Many applications

The hair can also be transformed into bio-composite bags or used to clean up oil spills.

It is estimated that just one kilogram of hair can absorb seven to eight liters of oil and hydrocarbons. According to the Hair Recycle Project, one strand of hair can support up to 10 million times its own weight. It is also water-soluble and highly elastic due to its keratin fibers.

Hair is used according to its length. Long locks are turned into wigs, while shorter ones find many other purposes, including use in garden fertilizers.

Discarded human hair is now being used to clean up pollutants
Hair is collected from salons.

In October of last year, we reported that a lab at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore, grew crops — leafy vegetables, micro greens, rocket leaves, and the Chinese cabbage bok choy — using discarded hair collected from salon floors.

Companies are also trying out hair as a building material.

"Our products are all the more ethical as they are manufactured locally... they are not imported from the other side of the planet," told EuroNews project co-founder Patrick Janssen. "They are made here to deal with local problems."

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A very good cause

Isabelle Voulkidis, manager of the Helyode salon in Brussels, pays a small fee to the project to collect her business' hair cuttings for what she believes to be a good cause.

"What motivates me, personally, is that I find it a shame hair is nowadays just thrown in the bin when I know that so much could be done with it," she concluded.

In June 2020, QUT researchers in Australia came up with an impressive new technique that saw human hair waste recycled into flexible displays that may be used in smart devices. The scientists succeeded in turning small hair strands into carbon nanodots, uniform dots that are one-millionth of a millimeter.

In April 2021, the same researchers used the human hair-derived nanodots to create an "armor" that improves the performance of solar technology. The features were used to boost the performance of perovskite solar cells — a new generation of solar technology that is cheaper and easier to mass-produce.