Photo: Matter of Trust
Matter of Trust, a company based in San Francisco, converts human hair into mats to counter problems of oil spills. Donated hair comes from all over the country, and the company, despite what others might find unnerving, use hair to help the ‘green’ movement.
Oil spills from land are usually cleaned up through the use of mats that are made from polypropylene. However, polypropylene is a plastic material made in factories, where processes require the burning of oil. Hence, CEO Lisa Gautier found an alternative way to solve oil spills while protecting the environment.
Human hair, on the other hand, is a resource that does not hurt nature. In fact, hair absorbs oil five times its weight. Matter of Trust does not fall short of supplies. According to them, there are over 900,000 licensed salons in the United States, and each can collect a pound or more of cut hair every week.
Gautier said, “Our project is to divert this from landfill. It makes much more sense to use a renewable natural resource to clean up oil spill than it does to drill more oil to use to clean up.”
The danger of oil spills
Oil spills can cause a wide array of problems. It can contaminate drinking water, pose a danger to animals and plants, affect the economy, and threaten public health.
Last year, there were over 175 oil spill incidents in the US alone, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports. Around 10,000 metric tons of oil were spilled by tankers, and possibly more unrecorded incidents contribute to the pollution caused by the spills.
Matter of Trust said that a liter of oil is plenty enough to contaminate 1 million gallons of water. In 2022, oil spills in Peru and Thailand let away 513,000 gallons of oil to the environment.
Apart from oil spills reported in the news, other minor spills also greatly comprise the total oil contamination around the globe. In fact, Gautier said that the news regarding spills in the headlines only comprises 5% of the total global oil contamination. Minor spills that contribute greatly include leaks from vehicles and natural seeps.
What happens to the donated hair
Salons, pet groomers, and other individuals send their hair cuttings to the San Francisco warehouse of the company. The donations undergo tests and checks for debris, dirt, or lice. The hair is then separated and spread so a custom-built felting machine will process it to create the mats.
For every 500 grams of hair, a two-foot square, one-inch thick mat is made. This single unit can absorb up to 1.5 gallons of oil.
The mats and booms created in the factory are either delivered to partner organizations like US Air Force and government agencies or donated to volunteers.
Matter of Trust has made more than 40,000 hair mats and 300,000 booms to help agencies if there are oil spills. One such example is the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
By late, Matter of Trust continues to produce their signature mats and booms. The company hopes that this will inspire more ‘green’ innovation as the climate condition has worsened over the years.
Opinions expressed by NY Weekly contributors are their own.