Whether it’s from grooming yourself or your pet, we’ve all needed to dispose of hair.
Humans normally shed 50-100 hairs per day. And, haircuts produce even more hair.
Most of us put hair in the trash or wash it down the drain. But, are these good choices?
How should you dispose of hair?
Here are three environmentally friendly and four less environmentally friendly ways to dispose of hair.
7 Ways to Dispose of Hair
There are seven ways to dispose of hair:
- Use It in the garden
- Recycle It
- Donate it to charity
- Put it in waste bins
- Wash it down the drain
- Offer it for bird nests
- Burn it
The first three are environmentally friendly, while the last four are less environmentally friendly.
Environmentally Friendly Ways to Dispose of Hair
These are the most environmentally friendly uses for hair:
- Use It in the garden
- Recycle It
- Donate It to charity
Use Hair in the Garden
Hair is biodegradable and has many uses in the garden.
Uses for hair in the garden or with indoor plants include:
- Pest control
Some gardeners use hair for mulch and pest control.
However, leaving hair on top of the soil for birds to find can be dangerous. We’ll discuss this more later.
Human hair is a surprisingly effective fertilizer.
Human hair is an excellent source of nitrogen. Hair contains 15% nitrogen, compared to cow dung at only 3% nitrogen.
When used as fertilizer, hair can provide enough nutrients for plants for 2-3 crop seasons.
How long does it take to compost hair? Hair takes up to two years to biodegrade without composting.
However, composting breaks it down enough in a month for gardening purposes.
Be sure to disperse hair throughout the compost pile for best results.
Some gardeners use human hair mats to deter pests. Deer, rabbits, and snails are less likely to eat crops in gardens that smell like humans.
Be sure the hair is matted so that birds cannot use the hair for nesting. We’ll discuss the dangers of hair to birds later in the article.
Recycle Your Hair
If you have a lot of hair from a hair-related business, consider recycling it.
Human hair has unique properties that make it useful for many applications:
- Slow decomposition time
- High tensile strength
- High elasticity
- Thermal insulation
- Useful amino acids
Therefore, you may be able to use, donate, or sell hair for the following purposes:
- Medical uses
- Oil spills
- Cleaning water pollution
Salon recycling services like Green Live Organization (GLO) can help salons recycle hair. Salons pack hair into recyclable containers and then mail them to the recycling service.
For personal or salon recycling, you can collect your hair in TerraCyle’s SalonCycle recycling box.
As mentioned above, there are a variety of agricultural uses for hair. Services like GLO often send hair to farmers for fertilizer and compost.
Human hair protein contains amino acids that are useful for pharmaceutical purposes:
- L-cysteine: useful for wound-healing
- N-acetyl L-cysteine (NAC): treats chest congestion and acetaminophen poisoning
Traditional Chinese medicine uses carbonized hair for hemorrhaging, burns, wounds, and scars. Meanwhile, rural Indians use hair ash for immediate wound pain relief.
Cleaning Oil Spills
Hair is lipophilic. Lipophilic materials easily absorb oil and repel water. Two pounds (one kilogram) of hair can soak up two gallons (eight liters) of oil.
Studies show that human and dog hair are excellent options in oil spills. They’re superior to synthetic polypropylene for absorbing oil from non- and semi-porous land surfaces.
Unfortunately, it’s difficult to dispose of oil-soaked hair afterward. Burning oil-soaked hair can be an air pollutant.
We’ve mentioned more about the effects of burning hair later in the article.
Cleaning Water Pollution
Human hair mats can absorb chemicals and heavy metals like formaldehyde and mercury from water.
For this reason, recycled hair can be a cost-effective way to clean water.
Unfortunately, if cleanup crews leave hair in the waterway, it can also be a pollutant. Thus, it’s essential to leave none behind after the cleaning process.
Several hair attributes make it useful in clay-based construction.
Hair has a high tensile strength level. Thus, it doesn’t easily break under pressure. It also can provide thermal insulation.
As a result, hair and clay mixtures have been used worldwide to plaster houses. It’s also a component for reinforcing concrete.
Hair is both elastic and thermal. Thus, you can use it as stuffing for mattresses, toys, cushions, and pillows. There’s no need to buy stuffing if you already have hair.
People also turn hair fibers into yarn to make hirsute hair suits, clothes, and blankets. Individuals use both human hair and animal hair in this unique craft.
The American Association of Textile Chemists commissioned a study on dog hair. In it, they found dog hair is structurally superior to wool from sheep for textiles.
Donate Hair to Charity
Human hair makes excellent wigs, so many cancer charity organizations collect human hair.
How long does your hair need to be to donate it? Most organizations request at least 12 inches 31 cm) of hair. However, 14 or more inches is even better.
The more you donate, the more of an impact you will have.
Most organizations have specific guidelines your stylist should use when they cut your hair. Here are some of the standards you can expect:
- Hair should be healthy
- Hair should be clean and dry
- Hair shouldn’t be bleached
- Hair shouldn’t be chemically-treated (for most organizations)
- Hair should be in good condition without split ends
- The hair should have few grey strands
- Hair should be in several ponytails with the cut above the rubber band
Several organizations accept hair donations for wigs. The following are all good options:
- Angel Hair for Kids
- Chai Lifeline
- Children with Hair Loss
- Hair We Share
- Locks of Love
- Maggie’s Wigs 4 Kids
- Matter of Trust
- Wigs for Kids
Interestingly, the Covid-19 pandemic caused an overflow of hair donations to these organizations.
Less Environmentally-Friendly Ways to Dispose of Hair
There are several environmentally friendly ways to dispose of hair.
However, some of our regular hair disposal practices are actually bad for the environment.
The following are ways you can dispose of your hair, but they’re less environmentally friendly:
- Waste bins
- Bird nests
Hair in Waste Bins
Yes, we’ve all collected hair from our brushes, bathtub, sink, and floor and placed it into the waste bin.
Placing hair in the trash is undoubtedly the easiest thing to do. However, it’s not the most environmentally friendly option.
Plastic garbage bags can take from 10-1000 years to decompose.
If you’re trashing hair from a salon, you’re producing hundreds of plastic garbage bags.
Without oxygen, hair-filled garbage bags produce methane gas.
Methane is one of the greenhouse gases responsible for climate change.
Water and Air Pollution
Human hair in landfills sometimes makes its way to nearby water sources.
Additionally, when waste facilities burn their trash, hair trash contributes to air pollution.
Hair in Bird Nests
In the spring, birds scavenge everywhere looking for the perfect nest materials.
One of their favorite materials is hair from humans and animals.
Many people leave offerings of human or pet hair for birds. However, hair can endanger bird health.
Why is hair bad for nests? Carolina Waterfowl Rescue’s director says, “human hair is a triple threat for birds.” It’s long, thin, and strong. It can wrap around bird legs or wings and sever them.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology once suggested offering pet hair instead. However, they have recently changed their advice.
Birds get tangled in it or are exposed to flea and tick treatments.
Hair in Drains
Grooming and bathing can cause an excess amount of hair in sink and bath drains. Some people even deliberately flush hair clippings down the toilet.
While it’s an easy disposal method, it’s best to keep hair out of drains.
Hair going down drains can cause problems both in your home and the sewage system.
On a small scale, it may clog your drains. On a large scale, it can damage the environment.
You can find human hair in municipal waste streams throughout the world. When it accumulates in large amounts, it can choke the drainage system.
Over time, the high nitrogen concentration from human hair causes eutrophication.
Eutrophication causes dense phytoplankton growth, which can cut off light and oxygen to water lifeforms.
Burning hair is a common practice worldwide. In fact, burning hair factors into several traditions and superstitions.
However, in addition to smelling bad, it also produces toxic gases:
- Carbonyl sulfides
- Hydrogen sulfides
- Sulfur dioxide
Final Thoughts on Hair Disposal
There are several ways to dispose of hair. However, some methods are more environmentally friendly than others.
Whether disposing of a lot or a little hair, there are several considerations.
It’s worthwhile to dispose of pet and human hair in an environmentally cautious way.
Three ways are best for hair disposal. Individuals and businesses can save human and pet hair for gardening and recycling.
Long hair owners can also donate hair for wigs.
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