Jill Fehrenbacher

CLEANING UP AN OIL SPILL WITH HAIR AND MUSHROOMS?

by , 11/19/07

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The recent Cosco Busan oil spill in the San Francisco Bay may have just met its match in an eco-cleaning solution that uses human hair and mushrooms! A group of intrepid volunteers has embarked on a project to clean up oil at San Francisco’s beaches using an unusual, yet totally organic, method of waste removal: hair mats and mushrooms. Using mats made of hair, the volunteers are able to absorb slicks of oil on the shore that have washed up since the Cosco Busan cargo ship sideswiped the base of the Bay Bridge last week, spilling 58,000 gallons of oil.


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Hair naturally absorbs oil from air and water and acts as the perfect sponge for an oil slick, according to Lisa Gautier of San Francisco, who donated 1,000 hair mats to volunteers. The spongy hair mats, apparently, feel like an S.O.S pad and are about the size of a doormat. Once the mats are soaked with the oily black gunk, oyster mushrooms will be placed on the mats and will grow and absorb the oil. The mushrooms will take approximately 12 weeks to absorb all of the oil, converting the oily hair mats into nontoxic compost. A national mushroom expert named Paul Stamets donated $10,000 worth of oyster mushrooms to the clean-up effort when he heard of the project and Lisa Gautier’s work.

If you are wondering why Lisa Gautier happened to have 1,000 human hair mats lying around, here’s why: The woman runs a nonprofit called Matter of Trust, which matches donations from businesses with needy nonprofits. For a previous project, Gautier had collected human hair from Bay Area hair salons and turned them into hair mats for the San Francisco Department of the Environment to use to absorb motor oil.

How fabulous is this? If only hair and mushrooms could clean up all of our toxic waste problems.

+ Matter of Trust Organization


Via The San Francisco Chronicle

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33 Comments

  1. PositivelyUnique July 12, 2010 at 9:07 pm

    So – I don’t know if this has been realized by somebody else; so if it has not been, I hope it can be put to good use.
    Just the other day, my washing machine produced a dime sized mat of dog hair. It was almost perfectly circular, clean (having been through the washing machine, and very very tightly woven into itself.
    If somebody would like to try this for the purpose of creating human hair mats for the cleanup of oil spills, I’d be curious to see if this would work. Pile hair into a washing machine (perhaps one that is fading or would otherwise be trashed) and see if it makes a hair mat? Would that be helpful, perhaps, in reducing the number of volunteers spending their time weaving hair mats – who could then go to work on the shores to use the hair mats?
    Just a thought/my two cents,
    Crystal D.

  2. Techniphobe June 25, 2010 at 1:15 pm

    It’s been tested and failed! . Hair also absorbs water causing the hair mats/tubes to sink out of sight along with the oil. Now you have hair pollution all over the beaches…great! Every enterprising capitalist out there is promoting their crackpot ideas as though the tech community doesn’t have a clue. You think science can solve all your problems overnight and swear by the unproven thoughts of
    highschool dropouts. Wake up folks and USE your brain…at least one of the three.

  3. ann.philip June 7, 2010 at 6:48 am

    Hello there is a great company called planet resource to fix the problem there is a frrat animation of correcting this
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=60bdQQQ3iVw

  4. welch May 12, 2010 at 11:06 pm

    i have over a ton of old sheep wool in two bags can it be used for the clean up

  5. saintmj April 28, 2010 at 8:27 am

    wow !!!! has anybody told this to the ppl of louisiana ?? im thinking of CANCER ALLEY….hair mats mushrooms and sunflowers could really help the parishs down there along with, of course jobs for youth !!! AWSOME

  6. greendragonvj April 27, 2010 at 5:45 pm

    here is a talk from one of the people that came up with this idea http://www.ted.com/talks/paul_stamets_on_6_ways_mushrooms_can_save_the_world.html

    and yes you can eat the mushrooms that ate the oil. he also has this book where he details how he uses mushrooms to do many things including cleaning up farm runoff waste. don’t know if you can eat those

  7. catychow March 2, 2010 at 6:40 am

    the mushrooms that grow on oil/ clean up oil spills are clean (as compared to mushrooms that take up lead from soil that are not)
    & the reason you don’t hear more about this (in the media) is because of propaganda spread by a plastic mat company (that ‘they’ prefer to use) that claims that their product is better & maybe the hair has something on it that’s not good for the environment???? wow!

  8. mezzizcool February 4, 2010 at 4:30 pm

    what chemicals allow it to soak up oil?

  9. Permaculture in the Eas... December 12, 2008 at 2:38 am

    [...] Mushrooms: There was an interesting presentation on growing mushrooms for human consumption and bio-remediation in the Bay Area. One of the highlights was a project where human hair mats were used to soak up oil from last year’s Cosco Busan oil spill in the Bay, and now mushrooms are being used to de-toxify the oil. Inhabitat has a pretty nice article about it here. [...]

  10. earthlyinfo.com September 11, 2008 at 2:36 am

    A truly amazing story. We are following up with stories like this and more at http://www.earthlyinfo.com Looking for good earth minded moderators if anyone is interested. Just requires a little blogging and some posting here and there.

  11. Foxbea July 26, 2008 at 7:29 pm

    Mailing address for hair clippings and nylon donations:

    http://www.matteroftrust.org/programs/hairmatsinfo.html

    Matter of Trust is partnering with The East Bay Depot For Creative Reuse and San Francisco Carpet Recycling and coordinating to have the donated hair be needle punched on a continual basis. This will provide jobs and training – a pathway out of poverty for those transitioning out of foster care – at risk youth 18-22 years old. Matter of Trust is currently fund raising for this project (please see our Contribute page). Mats will be sent to emergency oil spills and surplus sold to municipalities for use in routine leaks and spills, to create a sustainable system. Phil McCrory (inventor of the hair mat) and Smartgrow.net have generously donated to Matter of Trust license to make the these patented mats.

  12. alana * March 13, 2008 at 9:52 pm

    i think this would be great BUT…………….do you have enough hair to do it ??
    or will all humans have to shave their hair off so you can save the water ecosystem????

  13. Rapsiel February 18, 2008 at 11:54 pm

    …wow…must be hard work..you go people that helped!!!

  14. qther February 18, 2008 at 11:41 pm

    why not a sponge insted of a hair bal???

  15. aravind February 7, 2008 at 8:18 pm

    dude are you kidding me that is freakin’ awesome that you can use human hair and mushroom to remove oil of anything. i have never heard of something like this in my life.

  16. John Dvorak February 4, 2008 at 10:53 pm

    My barber has been collecting hair cuttings to donate for the mats used in oil spills.
    Where can this hair be taken or who can be contacted to have the hair picked up?

  17. Lee yujin December 16, 2007 at 1:49 am

    I’m korean and interested in this contents.
    In Korea, There were VERY BIG OIL SPILL!!
    So I want to inform the people of ‘Usefulness of HAIR’
    But I can’t find photos how they were used.
    And I quite don’t know that mushrooms can use this situation!!
    I want to know about that in detail.
    Give me touch with my mail.

    HELP ME EVERYBODY!
    HELP CLEANING THE ENVIRONMENT!

  18. 8 Foot Catfish Caught i... November 27, 2007 at 4:02 pm

    [...] Cleaning Up Oil Spills with Hair and Mushrooms? The recent Cosco Busan oil spill in the San Francisco Bay may have just met its match in an eco-cleaning solution that uses human hair and mushrooms! A group of intrepid volunteers has embarked on a project to clean up oil at San Francisco’s beaches using an unusual, yet totally organic, method of waste removal: Spread the Green These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages. [...]

  19. 70percent.org » B... November 27, 2007 at 2:18 am

    [...] story about how hair mats and mushrooms are helping clean the SF Oil Spill. I hope they are doing something similar in NY. Thanks Maggie [...]

  20. fUSION Anomalog. »... November 21, 2007 at 3:22 pm

    [...] 12 weeks to absorb all of the oil, converting the oily hair mats into nontoxic compost. [+] Explore posts in the same categories: oil tanker, hairstyles, [...]

  21. JS November 21, 2007 at 11:38 am

    dubby’s right about fungi and mushroom remediation (i’m not bashing anybody…). the bioneers have a fantastic book out about “Nature’s True Biotechnologies”, with Paul Staments and another “Bioneer” doing this sort of remediation.

    really awesome stuff.

  22. Kat November 20, 2007 at 11:51 pm

    no need to be insulting dubby. i’m not sure how many people think to check out fungi.com. congradulations for being in the know, and thanks to inhabitat for educating many more people about it. also, it’s worth noting that they’re reporting on what appears to be an innovative, previously unutilized combination of hair and mushrooms, so i guess the article really is news-worthy.

  23. Dubby November 20, 2007 at 7:39 pm

    “If only hair and mushrooms could clean up all of our toxic waste problems.”

    I’m not sure about hair but its widely known that mushrooms have been used in the bioremediation of many types of toxics. Inhabitat is a bit late to the game.

    http://www.fungi.com/mycotech/mycova.html

  24. khila November 20, 2007 at 7:28 pm

    wow!!!! thats pretty kewl that ppl can invent this stuff and ppl that will help our enviroment. so i thought i would just leave a message after i was done researching for a project on oil spills!!!lol but yeah g2g bye ppl!!!

    luv lotz
    khila

  25. Greg November 20, 2007 at 6:40 pm

    Very interesting reading for sure! Nice to see what can be done to help our environment when there is an accident.

  26. PENIX November 20, 2007 at 6:13 pm

    What happens to the mushrooms after they soak up the oil? Those them in a land fill? Eat them?

  27. tattoo guy November 20, 2007 at 4:31 pm

    This may be the best discovery of this decade.

    every time i see an oil spill or a nuclear weapon go off it makes me go a little bit cold.

    if we can stop the oil from damaging the world so much then thats a good start to a better existence

  28. » Human Hair, Mus... November 20, 2007 at 4:08 pm

    [...] Human Hair and Mushrooms Clean Oil Spill Tags: green, hair mat, oceanography, oil spill, oyster mushrooms, pollution, rehabilitation, San Francisco Bay [...]

  29. Anonymous Idiot November 20, 2007 at 3:52 pm

    This is likely a stupid question but.. the company that spilled the oil has no liability in paying for its cleaup?

    This is totally awesome, though. :)

  30. Chat Marchet News Diges... November 20, 2007 at 3:48 pm

    [...] It gets better, click here for the story. This entry was posted on Tuesday, November 20th, 2007 at 4:14 pm and is filed under le Chat Marchet. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site. [...]

  31. Kat November 19, 2007 at 11:23 pm

    wow talk about renewable resources! not to mention one that usually, as far as i know, goes to waste.

  32. Joyce November 19, 2007 at 12:21 pm

    It’s been known for some time now that hair absorbs oil. Have there been efforts by the government to collect hair for such oil spills?

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