I’ve always had an overabundance of hair; when I was a little girl my grandma taught me to pull the wads from my Mason Pearson and throw it out the window. I lived on the end of a dirt road in a deeply wooded area, and she said the birds that would collect my hair and utilize it in their nests, as it was a very strong material. I never really believed her, but thought it was good fun to toss my hair outside and watch it float along the breeze into the trees or over the lawn. Lo and behold, the next year, I started to spot my long, curly (then-golden) strands in the nests of the songbirds when they fell to the ground accidentally or were abandoned in the Autumn. Turns out my grandma just knew what birders everywhere do.
Photo via Flickr user Mat Honan
At seven years old, I thought this was pretty amazing and it made me feel part of the ecosystem in which I lived. Turned out the birds were onto something; human hair is stronger than copper wire of the same thickness, and is a durable material that has historically been used for all sorts of applications, from the obvious, like wigs, weaves and false eyelashes, to the totally surprising.
Smartgrow are mats made from human hair that are used to keep weeds down, and also act as a natural fertilizer. Not only do they save time and labor since weeds won’t grow through them (which also keeps plants healthier), their use means that few to no herbicides need to be used, saving growers money and chemicals. Luis Naranjo, who runs the largest nursery in South Florida, saved $45,000 in herbicide costs and over $200,000 in labor last year by using the hair mats. And they’re organic! Recently certified by the Organic Materials Review Institute as an natural weed-prevention material, they are approved for applications for organic farming. Smartgrow gets their hair from barber shops in China; they plus India sell about $154 million dollars worth of hair into the worldwide marketplace each year.
Photo via Flickr user Joey Bettencourt
Of course, every time there’s an oil spill, hairdressers across the US start gathering up hair to send to the slick; human hair absorbs up to five times it’s weight in oil while not retaining water. And there are chairs (as a replacement for fiberglass, which is toxic to produce) and shoes and clothes made from human hair (and of course Lady Gaga has been there, done that), but that’s no so surprising – people will make clothes out of almost anything, won’t they? If you don’t believe me, check out this large gallery of images of people wearing sweaters made from their dog’s fur.
But my absolute favorite way to use human hair has to be in this amazing art project by Seattle-based artist Adrienne Antonson. She recycles human hair to create these gorgeous filagree bug sculptures.
Adrienne explains why she loves using the material: “As an artist with a deep interest in sustainable and self-supporting systems, human hair seems the most immediate and true material. I find the historical implications and various uses of human hair fascinating. I am also intrigued with the attraction/repulsion response the material evokes. It is sentimental, challenging and honest.”
For those of us who are loathe to cut our hair, I certainly get the sentimental part! Next time you’re getting your hair trimmed, don’t think of the discarded strands as garbage, but as fertilizer or art material or maybe something we haven’t thought of yet.
Starre Vartan is founder and editor-in-chief of Eco-Chick and author of The Eco-Chick Guide to Life (St. Martin’s Press). A green living expert, she contributes to The Huffington Post and Mother Nature Network (MNN.com)
Lead Image via Flickr user Joey Bettencourt