How to Clean the Oil Spill? Hair and Mushrooms!

Hair mats could be part of cleanup solution to the massive oil spill in the Gulf. In the photo, more than 500 concerned citizens used hair mats to clean up the Cosco Busan Oil Spill on Ocean Beach in San Francisco. Photo: Matter of Trust

As our newest oil spill seeps toward the Louisiana coast, it's natural to wonder whether there are any out-of-the-box ways to clean up the mess. Is rubbing animals with dish detergent the best we can do?

Looking to the Philippines, we found our answer: human hair. In 2006, the country's worst-ever oil spill prompted an unusual program in the country's prisons. Thousands of Philippine inmates had their heads and chests harvested foir hair to be used in the clean-up effort.

The hair was combined with feathers to create a spongy material that would soak up the more than 50,000 gallons of industrial fuel that had leaked from a sunken tanker off the central island of Guimaras.

The method was also used in San Francisco, when hair mats were employed to clean up the Cosco Busan spill of 2007, which resulted when a cargo ship hit the base of the Bay Bridge and let loose some 58,000 gallons of oil.

Lisa Gautier, director of a nonprofit called Matter of Trust, donated 1,000 "oil spill hair mats" she had made for the San Francisco Department of the Environment to absorb motor oil spills.

Once the hair mats, which are size of doormats and feel like Brillo pads, had absorbed all the oil they could, oyster mushrooms were cultivated on the mats to absorb the oil and turn the oily hair into nontoxic compost within 12 weeks, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Mycologist and author Paul Stamets donated $10,000 worth of oyster mushrooms to the cause.

So could hair and mushrooms work in the gulf? Yes, indeed. Lisa Gautier is at it again and wants your hair to the help with the clean-up effort. Find out how to donate your excess locks here.

Story by Katherine Gustafson, originally published May 1, 2010 on Tonic.

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  • Katie

    wow. That’s just awesome! I’m so going to donate! 😀

  • brian

    Glad to see this subject get some exposure. check out the documentary “know your mushrooms.” It has been on IFC and, of course, the intertubes.

  • Malynda

    Matter of Trust and Excess Access are fantastic! In fact, they have received such a great response from people all over the world signing up to help that they have spun off a national program to warehouse excess materials all over the country in case this happens again. I am so proud to be part of such a group of people with gigantic hearts.

  • Hunter Miller

    I think the hair thing will help soak up yhe oil!

  • Amanda Myers

    So I guess a hiarstylist discovered how hair is ‘aquaphobic’- and it loves oils. It’ll absorb oil and let all H2O run clean thru…then what do you do with hair mats full of abosrbed oil? Grow mushrooms on it- I think the mushrooms metabolize the oil as the fungus grows, breaking down the petroleum. Not that I recommend eating these particular mushrooms…check out the Green Channel

  • Michael Hay

    I think it’s a great ideal, but the hair and mushrooms ideal maybe a little to late. I believe the engineers need to come up with a vacum filter system to seperate the oil and water and have it mounted on a oil tankers.

  • Kristi

    This is so awesome! I just watched a talk by Paul Stamets on TED and he talked about how mushrooms can clean up oil spills. There is hope, afterall. I didn’t know about hair and it makes sense.

  • Cindi

    GREAT !!!!!!!!! Finally a place to send the hair that I collect from my 4 dogs, when I brush them. Now if I only knew where to send it.

  • Roy

    Hey, the link to donate hair is here:

  • marc

    why could we not use a source of hay are straw the oil clings to it and there is pleanty of it around and its cheap and does a great job once the hay are straw has soked the oil up it can be burt for fuil in furnance

  • http://MSN Sherry Schodts

    On youtube, there is a video of 2 “good ol’ boys” from Georgia or N. Carolina, that showed how hay will attract and hold oil. Two different types of hay, as I recall. They were trying to approach BP.

  • ralph bogan

    I own a small Mattress recycling business located in South Carolina. If it will help you, I would like to Donate to you or anyone who can use my material to help clean up the oil on your coast. I am sending pics and a video(cant send video…file too large) of my offering. It is recycled non-woven raw cotton fiber, I also have a mixed fiber gray shoddy pad to offer. I will give you all I have and all I will process for the rest of this year if it will help in any way. I know you are a busy man and I don’t want to waste your time. Please have someone contact me if you are interested.

    Best Wishes
    Ralph Bogan
    Nine Lives Mattress Recycling
    837 N. Pamplico hwy.
    Pamplico, SC.29583

  • http://needmoreexplanation azmi

    need more explanation how to clean-up oil spills by using this method..i mean by using hairs and mushroom…tq

  • rose ann millarez

    It is a brilliant idea and a cheaper cost of cleaning up the gulf!I know people are willing to cooperate with this stuff.