Thousands of workers are still battling an oil spill in Peru. The eruption of the submarine volcano in Tonga released a million liters of oil into the sea while an oil tanker was unloading. An invention from the south of France could help in the future: the hair oil filter. From her salon near Münster, Indra Fürstenberg sends several kilos of cut hair to Provence every month:
“There are incredibly simple ways you can use to help ensure that future generations can still have a good life,” she says.
“Hair filter sausages” absorb oil
Thierry Gras stores tons of cut hair in a hall half an hour’s drive northeast of Marseille. Long-term unemployed people fill them with used thrombosis stockings – as well as corks for hair sausages to float on water. Thierry proudly dips his self-developed filter into a bowl of water on which floats a puddle of orange. “You can see: the water runs off and the oil sticks to the hair.”
Instead of ending up in the trash, the cut hair is transformed into a sort of snake absorbing hydrocarbons, helping to clean up the Mediterranean.© AFP / Christophe Simon
Thousands and thousands of French hairdressers are now participating and sending hair loss to Thierry. In many cities there are even special collection containers.
“I wish one day hair would be used all over the world,” says Thierry. “It’s absurd that you throw them away. If all the hairdressers participated, it would be great.”
Hair also filters diesel residue and sunscreen
Lined up in line, hair oil filters are already sucking up diesel residue from marinas and sunscreen from the surface of the water on beaches. Every year, 10,000 tonnes end up at sea around the world. Hair is ideal because it’s considered lipophilic, or fat-friendly, says dermatologist Yael Adler:
“You can see this by the fact that the sebum from the scalp adheres very well to the hair and stays there – also because the hairline is not smooth, but covered with horny scales. A bit like a pine cone . And depending on its roughness that is, grease can cling to it particularly well.”
Hair filters were also used at Deepwater Horizon
It is precisely these properties that contribute to the elimination of oil spills. But the idea of the hair oil filter is not entirely new. This is how Britons protected their beaches when the oil tanker Amoco Cadiz broke up there in 1978. Even after the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, local people used hair filters to clean the banks.
“You didn’t just take hair, but cellulose, wool, chicken feathers, sawdust, peat, moss, textiles,” says water expert Hans -Curt Flemming. “And there you have two problems. One problem is capacity. That means: how much do these materials absorb? And the other problem is: how do you get rid of them then?”
In France, thousands of hairdressers are already collecting cut hair and making it available to “fair hairdressers”.© AFP / Christophe Simon
Hair oil filters can be cleaned and reused up to eight times. After that, they can still be used again – for example as insulating material in the construction industry. A long ignored resource is finally exploited:
“We in the trades just have this great opportunity. We think of something and act. It couldn’t be easier. Cost-wise, it’s a small effort to get these filters out to sea. But the benefits are incredibly high,” says Indra Fürstenberg.
She is one of the few German hairdressers to recycle hair waste from her salon: our hair grows 15 centimeters a year. It’s only 20 grams, but it’s the mass that counts: a normal salon throws away an average of six kilos of cut hair – per month. All of the 80,000 German salons would therefore total nearly 500 tonnes. We could do a lot of good with that.
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