France using 40 tonnes of human hair to clean up the oceans

France using 40 tonnes of human hair to clean up the oceans

In the town of Brignoles in southeast France, 40 tonnes of human hair are stacked in a warehouse – discarded locks sent in from salons far and wide under an innovative recycling scheme, according to The Local.

After a successful trial in the nearby port of Cavalaire-sur-Mer, the hair is destined to be stuffed into nylon stockings to make floating tubes that will line harbours to mop up ocean oil pollution.

“Hair is lipophilic, which means it absorbs fats and hydrocarbons,” says Thierry Gras, a hairdresser in Saint-Zacharie near Brignoles and founder of the project Coiffeurs Justes (Fair Hairdressers).

Awaiting the green light from labour inspectors and anti-pollution officials, Gras hopes to start large-scale production of the tubes before year-end and so help fight against pollution.

He plans to sell the forearm-length tubes, which can each absorb eight times their weight in oil, for €9 apiece.

At the Brignoles warehouse, paper bags are filled with two kilogrammes of hair each, waste from thousands of participating hairdressers from all over France – including Gras’s own – as well as Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg.

The bags are then sent to another site a few streets away, where formerly-unemployed people and school dropouts are paid to make the absorbent tubes, according to The Local.

Gras plans to reinvest half of the sale price of the tubes in the employment centre.

According to the stylist, each hairdresser on average produces about 29 kilogrammes of hair waste every year, most of it ending up in the trash.

Photo courtesy of Christophe SIMON / AFP

While snipping away at a client’s hair, Gras told AFP his appetite for fighting pollution was awakened in childhood by the 1978 stranding of the Amoco Cadiz tanker off France’s Brittany coast.

When he became a hairdresser later, Gras was shocked to discover there was no recycling facility for hair waste – which can also be used as fertiliser, isolation material, concrete reinforcement or in water filtration.

Gras therefore came up with the idea of creating hair-filled oil absorbers, and in 2015 founded his association. It has some 3,300 contributing salons to date.

The tubes, Gras explains, “can be used in case of a serious oil spill, such as the one in Mauritius recently, but the idea here is to remove micro-pollution [in ports] on a continuous basis.”

The Japanese-owned MV Wakashio ran aground on a coral reef off Mauritius on July 25, spilling over 1,000 tonnes of oil into a protected marine park boasting mangrove forests and endangered species.

Volunteers used makeshift sponges stuffed with straw and hair to try and suck up the oil until authorities stopped the practice.

In Cavalaire, a dozen tubes are already in use, serving as a pilot for the project and several river and ocean ports in France have also shown an interest in purchasing the tubes.

According to a NASA study published in 1998, 11,340 kilograms of hair should be able to absorb some 170,000 gallons of spilled oil.

Read the full article online.

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