French startup recycles hair to clean up ocean oil spills

James Taylor, Co-Founder of the French startup Capillum spoke to ELN about a hair recycling initiative, which extracts keratin from waste hair to use it for soil and water decontamination

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Around 4,000 tonnes of hair waste is generated by hairdressing salons every year in France. Could the recycling of these seemingly useless offcuts save the planet?

James Taylor, Co-Founder of the French startup Capillum, says yes – speaking to ELN about an innovative technology which utilises keratin from the wasted hair in the service of the environment, he said: “We recycle leftover hair. Human hair contains keratin, a protein that absorbs oil and this can be used to clean up the environment. By recycling hair we also try to reduce waste.

“Keratin can also replace plastics in agriculture and horticulture and can help to cure skin conditions.”

The company works with 200 hair salons across France, which send the hair waste to get a second life in water and soil decontamination, agriculture and skincare research.

Mr Taylor added: “Hair is a natural absorbent and can absorb normally eight times its weight in oil or hydrocarbons. For this reason, we collect the hair in a way that can be used even for oil leaks in oceans.

“Many times synthetic absorbents are used for oil spills. Hair can do the same thing in a natural way. Hair is an exceptional resource.”

He said recently the company collected hair to transport to Mauritius to help the local authorities and organisations in their efforts to clean up the oil spill caused when a cargo ship ran aground on a coral reef off the island in August.

In October, the company offered free haircuts to all the staff working at the Palace of the Versailles: “We were really happy to organise that hair recycling opportunity. There is an enormous amount of hair waste that goes in the bin every year and to use it to benefit the environment makes it really great.”

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