Local salons donate hair to help with oil cleanup

By Gabe DeJong

Victims of the recent Gulf oil spill are receiving assistance from an unlikely source: the heads of Iowa City residents.

“I’ve always thought, ‘I wish I could recycle hair,’ ” said Amy Mayfield, the owner of Groovy Katz Salon & Spa.

Now she can.

Matter of Trust, a San Francisco nonprofit organization, uses donated hair from salons and fur from animal groomers nationwide to construct booms and absorbent mats to aid in the cleanup of oil spills.

Several salons from Iowa City donate to Matter of Trust, including Groovy Katz, Buzz Salon, Cut Loose Hairstyling, G-Spot Hair Design, Twin Image Salon Spa, and Zender’s Salon and Spa.

“We don’t really do anything with our hair besides throw it away, anyway,” said Lindsey Randall, a stylist at Groovy Katz, who heard about Matter of Trust two years ago and suggested that the salon donate its clippings. “I just got on the website and signed us up.”

Matter of Trust uses a simple principle: Oil sticks to hair. What may seem like an undesirable trait works to the advantage of the cleanup.

The idea to use hair to clean up oil was conceived by Phil McCory, a hair stylist from Huntsville, Ala., who was watching coverage of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill. McCory went on to invent the OttiMat, an absorbent mat consisting of human hair.

Volunteers weave donated hair and fur into mats like the OttiMat or stuff it into recycled nylon pantyhose — 100,000 pairs were recently donated by the Hooters restaurant chain — making an absorbent, oil-containing boom, according to Matter of Trust’s website.

To ensure that the booms stay afloat, the hair-filled hosiery is sometimes jammed alongside foam pool noodles into a nylon mesh bag normally used by shrimp fisherman. The end result is a buoyant boom made from unlikely ingredients.

When Ricci Brown, a stylist at Transformations Salon & Spa in Coralville, heard that hair could be put to a good use, she supported the idea immediately.

“I think that it’s a great cause,” she said. “Anyway that you can do it naturally is great. Instead of filling up our landfills with more trash, we’re able to utilize it and recycle.”

Around nine months ago, Matter of Trust contacted donors and said it couldn’t take any more hair; it didn’t have enough room to store it.

But since oil began gushing into the Gulf in late April, production has been ramped up, and salons are again mailing boxes of hair.

Normally, volunteers work in a San Francisco warehouse constructing mats and booms and sending them to one of the more than 2,600 spills that occur annually. Since the recent Gulf spill, however, 600 volunteers have operated from 19 warehouses near the Gulf.

While BP prefers to use its own synthetic booms to contain the spill, many municipalities along the Gulf Coast use Matter of Trust’s hair booms.

Volunteers have made more than 10 miles of boom for the Gulf oil cleanup, according to Matter of Trust, and they have the necessary supplies to construct another 15 miles.

While the outcome of the cleanup efforts is yet to be seen, hair salon patrons are happy to help out.

“I’m totally for it,” said Jennifer McCune before her 4 p.m. appointment at Groovy Katz. “It’s a good idea.”

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