Hair today, recycled tomorrow

Local salon becomes first in the province to recycle everything — yes, everything

Published on March 6, 2016

Your hair is not something you’d normally think about recycling.

Most of us get a haircut at least every couple of months. The clippings fall on the salon floor, the salon assistant sweeps them up and dumps them in the garbage, and it all gets sent to the landfill. Here’s the thing, though: it doesn’t decompose easily.

Unlike skin, hair and fingernails are made of keratin, making them durable and resistant to decomposition. Think about it: when archaeologists uncover the remains of humans from past civilizations, at least some of the hair is still intact. Locks of hair belonging to Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and Elvis Presley are on display in museums.

As of last week, Hair Factory locations in St. John’s and Halifax have gone green. They are the first salons in the province to become members of Green Circle Salons, a Canadian company that helps about 800 hair salons across the continent cut down on their garbage, including hair.

“We’re really excited about it,” said Jenn Ghaney, hair stylist and one of the managers of The Hair Factory in Churchill Square. “This company (Green Circle Salons) started in 2009 but they want the beauty industry to be sustainable by 2020.

“Even in just a week, our garbage has gone down significantly.”

There are strategically placed bins in the salon for empty colour tubes and the squares of aluminum foil used for colouring hair, as well as for leftover colour and perm solutions and hair clippings. Once a week, the waste is boxed up and shipped to Green Circle Salons in Montreal, where it is then sent to specialized recyclers. The tubes are melted down and the chemicals are used to create energy. The metal is sent to a facility for repurposing.

The leftover liquid chemicals, normally just rinsed in the sink and down the drain, undergo a process to break them down. The residue can be used to make concrete, Ghaney said.

The hair is used to make a number of things, including oil-absorbing booms used to sop up oil spills. Green Circle Salons sent 1,000 pounds of hair to the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 to help with the BP oil spill.

“The hair is sent to a couple different facilities, including a women’s prison,” Ghaney explained. “They will take the hair and turn it into a fibre which is then made into pillows for refugee camps. They can also turn the hair into a plastic-like resin to make a kind of MDF, and use it to make furniture.”

Going green was something salon owners and management have been talking about for a couple years, Ghaney said, but it wasn’t really an option. The chemicals being poured down the sink were what personally bothered her the most.

“It was hard to get municipal recycling here and it was a bit slow coming. It seemed like a lot of work and we could still only do so much. There was nothing we could do about the hair,” she said. “When (Green Circle Salons) approached us while we were doing training in Ontario, we thought this is exactly what we were looking for.”

The service doesn’t come free for salons. A $1.50 eco-fee has been added per client visit to cover the costs of the Green Circle Salons program, consistent with what other member salons across the country charge.

Ghaney is hoping other local salons will follow suit and become members of Green Circle Salons.