Waste human hair could help clean up oil spills

Waste human hair could help clean up oil spills

Waste human hair could help clean up oil spills

Your chopped-off locks could help clean up oil spills in oceans, according to scientists who suggest that human hair waste from salons may be a valuable asset to remedy maritime disasters.

Using hair to deal with oil spills is a fairly new area of research. Only a couple of studies having been conducted where the hair was either ground up or changed it in some way before being used.

Several environmental groups experimented with hair booms during the BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010, but did not conduct scientific research.

"Hair is a natural biosorbent. It's been shown to adsorb three to nine times its weight in oil," said Rebecca Pagnucco, from the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) in Australia.

"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," Pagnucco said.

"There are a lot of different materials that are used in contamination cleanup - a lot of them are synthetic products, particularly things that are made of polypropylene and other types of plastic polymers," Pagnucco said.

However, particular types of dispersants are actually doing more harm than good trying to clean up oil sites, she said. As a result of this concern, there has been a push towards research using natural materials such as cotton or wool.

"Cotton and wool can work very well because they are adsorbent obviously, but they are also quite valued in making textiles and clothing, so there's already another, more useful demand for them," Pagnucco said.

"Whereas 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," she said.

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