PODCASTEnvironmentally Speaking EP 77: We Got Hair!

April 26, 20230

Transcript: We Got Hair!

CLARICE:  It could be whatever time.  Happy whatever time of day.

MARISA:  We’re back, baby.

CLARICE:  We’re back.

MARISA:  This is Environmentally Speaking and I’m Marisa Desautel an environmental attorney.

CLARICE:  And I’m Clarice.  And, Marisa, I’m just going to dive right in.

MARISA:  Great.

CLARICE:  Do you have a favorite hairstyle?

MARISA:  Isn’t it obvious?  What I’m rocking right now.  Don’t I look good?

CLARICE:  The perfect quaff.

MARISA:  Absolutely.

CLARICE:  For folks at home, she has it teased straight up in a beehive, immaculate.

MARISA:  Why are we talking about hair?

CLARICE:  Because per usual what do I bring to the table, the weirdest topics we can find.

MARISA:  Sure.

CLARICE:  I found — and I saw this on YouTube and afterwards I found some more credible resources after YouTube.  Folks are using — and if you’re a little bit on the squeamish side, some people tend to be a bit polarized about hair.  People are using human hair to clean up oil spills and I wanted to do some research about it.  It’s a little weird.  It’s very weird.  All right.  I’m going to say it.  It’s just weird.

MARISA:  You know when you’re washing the dishes in the sink and you get like a piece of your own hair? .


MARISA:  It ends up in there and then it’s wet and it’s clinging to your hand.

CLARICE:  It’s the spidey feeling.  That’s what it is.  That’s gross.

MARISA:  So imagine —

CLARICE:  An ocean full of it.  You’re welcome, folks.  Well, now that we’ve lost all five listeners.

MARISA:  Disgusting.  Why are people using human hair?

CLARICE:  Surprisingly there’s a ton of benefits to this.  First off, we’re going to start with some of the benefits that you might not have thought of.

MARISA:  Um, all of them.

CLARICE:  Did you know that human hair can absorb five times its weight in oil?


CLARICE:  Neither did I.  It’s super easy to put into mats.  It’s really easy to acquire.

MARISA:  It’s free.

CLARICE:  Yeah.  It’s free.  So essentially let me back up a little bit.  The process of using hair to soak up oil spills, tons of organizations have been collecting hair donations from salons and the thing that disturbed me the most was individuals.  Individuals have been just mailing in their hair.  Dear listeners, I now implore you — no.  I beg you to find a greeting card and just put like a couple of strands in there and send it to your local nonprofit for this.

[0:03:22] MARISA:  This is like some Silence of the Lambs.

CLARICE:  That would make my day.  But, yeah, individuals and hair salons.  Hair salons makes the most sense to me obviously.

MARISA:  Yeah.  Because it keeps hair out of the —

CLARICE:  Out of the landfills.

MARISA:  — out of the landfills.  It’s like trying not to gag again.  So it keeps hair out of the landfill which is good.

CLARICE:  Yeah.  And what these organizations are doing is collecting this product — I’m going to call it a product now — and forming mats out of it.  And this also extends to fur, so they’ve been reaching out to groomers, as well.  And these mats are naturally buoyant and you can just have them in the ocean absorbing —

MARISA:  Just floating around?

CLARICE:  Yeah.  Absorbing oil.  And you don’t need the plastic buoys.  You don’t need to go out there and, you know, sort of have like all of the plastic non-natural materials surrounding it, creating it.  These hair mats are just mats of hair.  It is its own sponge.  So it’s — there’s no other chemicals.  There’s no other processes.  It’s basically just a human hair sponge out there doing a way better job than the plastic non-natural materials that we have now and it’s apparently really effective.

MARISA:  Does it matter what color the hair is?

CLARICE:  From my understanding, no.  But what I thought was interesting is in all of the articles I’ve read they only reference brunettes and blonds.

MARISA:  Okay.  So if you’re a red head you’re out.

CLARICE:  Or people with black hair.  Or is black hair just —

MARISA:  Or gray or white.

CLARICE:  Oh, so gray and white is — everybody is technically gray and white because that’s just the pigment leaving your hair.

MARISA:  All right.  Let’s not get fancy, okay.

CLARICE:  That’s my fancy fact.

MARISA:  All right.  So wait.  So what happens after the hair has absorbed the oil?  Do they go out and collect it?

CLARICE:  From what I see they go out and collect it, but they’re not discussing what happens to that product after.

MARISA:  Yeah.  I would think that it’s —

CLARICE:  I don’t know where this — I don’t know where it all goes.

MARISA:  Sorry to cut you off, but it would have to go, I think, to a landfill that can handle hazardous waste.

0:05:58] CLARICE:  I think so.  I think one of the big things that they keep saying over and over again is whatever material is being used up is now less than this.  And now, Marisa, you’re going to correct me on this, polypropylene.

MARISA:  No.  That’s right.

CLARICE:  Less hair is needed to absorb than — you need less hair to absorb oil than you would polypropylene, so whatever waste or whatever used up hair is being collected at the end is already less to clean up and deal with, but they’re not yet sharing what that cleanup process is or what that decontamination or —

MARISA:  They’d have to go out and collect it.  Imagine that.  You’ve just got like a big mass of hair, oily hair.

CLARICE:  Just a giant hair sponge.


CLARICE:  And these kind of look like carpets.  At this point they look — yeah.  They look like big sheets for folks who are — when I say a mat, think like a wool mat.  They don’t look like hair.  They really look — they don’t look recognizable like that.

MARISA:  Can you link to that picture in the show notes?

CLARICE:  Yeah.  I’ll put all the articles I reference in the show notes.

MARISA:  Okay.

CLARICE:  Another thing that I thought was an interesting use that we don’t see the polypropylene being used for is I’m seeing them starting to be used in some areas to incircle storm drains as a preventative for contaminated runoff.

MARISA:  Yeah.

CLARICE:  So I thought that was —

MARISA:  I think I’ve seen those already in use.  I don’t think it’s human hair, but it’s a product that looks like — you know those door mats you can buy that are made [inaudible] —


MARISA:  — like coir.  No.  C-o-i-r.  I don’t know how to say that word.  Whatever.


MARISA:  Yeah.  C-o-i-r.  That material, I’ve seen that kind of tan-ish, brown-ish.  It looks like a mat used around storm drains.  Messed myself all up not being able to pronounce that word.  So the traditional way of dealing with oil spills at sea is — I mean, oil spills are upsetting.  And I will try not to go down the path of talking about all the issues I have with human behavior and instead focus on just what the response actions are.

[0:08:57] CLARICE:  Oh, would you like to?  I have some horrifying numbers right on hand.

MARISA:  Well, we’ll get to that, but let me talk about the — the traditional oil spill response is generally run by the federal government and it’s unclear whether the federal government really requires the party that caused the spill to participate in the cleanup.  But if you go to NOAA’s website — NOAA is the federal agency that regulates oceanic and fisheries in the country.  The acronym stands for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration which is a little misleading.

But, anyway, they’ve got a pretty comprehensive website about how they assist with cleanup of oil and chemical spills.  And like I said, the traditional method used to respond to an oil spill at sea is, number one, chemical dispersion where NOAA applies some chemicals to the water where the oil spill occurred and it breaks the oil down into smaller droplets.  They also will sometimes burn an oil spill onsite.  Light a match, throw it in, watch everything go boom and poof.

CLARICE:  What did I say several weeks ago.  Sometimes controlled detonation can be the answer and I just want to be at the table for that discussion.

MARISA:  NOAA agrees.  Thirdly, booms.  This is probably the category where hair comes into place where normally you’ve got these long floating barriers that they put around the oil spill so that it doesn’t spread.  When you’re using a boom, you’re not collecting oil.  You’re just preventing it from moving around, so I wonder if the hair mats would be used in conjunction with the booms, or does the hair go on top of the oil spill.

CLARICE:  From my understanding it’s both.  From my understanding the hair absorbs and contains.

MARISA:  Wow.  A twofer.

CLARICE:  I watched a really — the video I watched was really cool.  They had a sample.  They had like a little demonstration container and they had oil across the top of it and they just dropped one of the mats in and the water went from sort of that brown, black to clear.  And it was just somebody had put the mat in and picked the mat up.

MARISA:  Wow.   [inaudible] stay there for any length of time either.  It’s automatic.

CLARICE:  No.  And I wonder if that’s just because the size of the container.  I’m sure they will probably keep it in for longer.

[0:12:01] MARISA:  Well, the container was acting like a boom because it’s confining the oil spill to a certain area.

CLARICE:  Just, I mean, as quick as I said it, it was like in, soaked, out.  Very cool to watch.

MARISA:  Oh, okay.  And the last category is skimming where you use boats that move along and skim the top layers of the oil spill there’s no depth considered when you’re skimming.  So those are the four main categories and I’m a bit underwhelmed.


MARISA:  But maybe with the hair process the oil spill response will become more efficient and better.

CLARICE:  I don’t think there’s going to be an answer or a process that will whelm us.

MARISA:  I am whelmed.

CLARICE:  Yeah.  There’s nothing that’s going to make us feel whelmed.  Oil has been dumped into a giant body of water.  There’s nothing that’s going to be instant, effective, or exciting to us in the face of a catastrophe.  I like the fact that they’re looking at something that’s hopefully going to be a little bit more sustainable.  I’m kind of looking at it as a possibility of two birds one stone.  We’re diverting a landfill product in one space that has absorbent potential in another space.

MARISA:  Yeah.

CLARICE:  And is avoiding creation of most plastic.  Do I think it’s going to fix problems, no.  Is it chipping away at something, it could if more people use it and it’s widely accepted and a lot of folks get on board, but in the end it’s a massive problem and this is just kind of like one tiny peck at the problem.

MARISA:  Agreed.  Final thought from me on this, you just used the word catastrophe which is appropriate.  An oil spill in the ocean is a friggin’ catastrophe.  In my research for today’s episode and looking at some of the different techniques and response pages from the federal government I noticed that whoever put this website together — I have many opinions on it, but the one that popped out to me was a reference to the response actions that I mentioned, those four categories.

So they have a little infographic that shows you dispersion, burning, booms, and skimming.  And then underneath it there’s a little two-sentence paragraph that references those four categories and it says — and I’m quoting — much has been learned about the tricky business of removing oil from open water since the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon incident in the Gulf of Mexico, end quote.  The incident.  Let’s downplay it, right.  Let’s downplay it.  Let’s put them on our website.  Let’s do a little cartoony response infographic and we’ll go about our day.  Incident.  You said catastrophe and our federal government calls it an incident.  What’s up with that?  That’s my final thought.

[0:15:57] CLARICE:  That is just stupid.  I’m sorry.

MARISA:  It is stupid.  All right, well.

CLARICE:  Well, hey, if you guys have greeting cards lying around and haven’t cleaned your showers yet put that hair in an envelope and send it over to a charity.  Just make sure it’s a charity that collects hair mats and not —

MARISA:  Yeah.  Otherwise it’s —

CLARICE:  Otherwise it’s creepy.  If you have questions, comments, thoughts — does hair creep you out?  This was hard to talk about.  I think it’s a cool idea, but something about it’s creepy.

MARISA:  It’s wicked creepy.

CLARICE:  And I don’t know why.  Tell us your thoughts.  We are on all of the socials at Desautel Browning Law.  We are on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter.  Our videos are on YouTube.  We are also on Instagram if I haven’t already mentioned that.  You can send us an e-mail.  Let us know if this did weird you out.  I don’t know why hair is hard to talk about.  Help@DesautelESQ.com.  You all know the e-mail, or you don’t.  Maybe we’d get more e-mails if I got it right.

MARISA:  Yeah.  Probably.

CLARICE:  Have a good one.  Brush your hair.

MARISA:  Goodbye.

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