Hair could be used after oil spills, say scientists

Spill Response Expo blog post 1

Scientists have suggested that the naturally absorbent characteristic of hair means that salon offcuts could be used in oceans to mop up oil spills.
Hair is able to soak up three to nine times its weight due to the strands being covered in cracks and would be a cheap alternative to using synthetic plastics, they said.

Currently, firms attempt to minimise the damage after an oil spill by releasing large quantities of absorbing plastic - often made of polypropylene or other plastic polymers - into the site of the spillage.

The researchers added that offcuts of hair are sometimes used in the production of wigs, but that the majority end up being thrown away and unused; meaning their unique absorbent quality is “wasted”.

Dr Megan Phillips, a lecturer in environmental biology at the University of Technology Sydney, said: “Your hair gets oily because the oil sticks to the hair fibres. By the same token, it also has the potential to stick to other types of oils, such as crude oil.

“Oil can slip into and stick to the numerous cracks lining each strand of hair,” she added.

Scientists say that hair also never loses its absorbent ability, meaning the same hair could be used for dealing with multiple oil spills.