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Human hair could be the ultimate recycled material as soil conditioner, to clean-up oil spills

Jackie Yong first came up with the idea when she was a hairdresser 15 years ago. (ABC Central Victoria: Shannon Schubert)

"Hair is the new poop," Jackie Yong explains with a laugh. That's the catchphrase summarising a new product she has created that uses human hair to improve garden soil.

Her business Soilz Alive produces human hair in soil conditioner, which she says improves soil quality. 

Ms Yong initially got the idea when she was a hairdresser, but developed the product when she started working with compost. 

"I started to collect it, play around with it, researched it, and I went down a rabbit hole," she said. 

"Hair contains one of the highest nitrogen levels.

"That little strand of hair is packed with nutrients that is viable for the soil if I can get the microbes to breakdown."

Ms Yong says the hair breaks down in the soil and has improved the quality of her vegetables. (ABC Central Victoria: Shannon Schubert)

Ms Yong says recycling hair for compost could stop it from going to landfill by providing a soil nutrient that is easily accessible. 

"Those that have used it have been really happy with their soil and plant health and hair's one thing that's infinite," she said.

Scientific studies have shown human hair mixed with compost is a good fertiliser for plants.

An American Society for Horticultural Science study showed human hair, when combined with additional compost material, was an additional nutrient source for crops. 

The University of Northampton also studied human hair and found that enzymatic or microbial degradation of hair made it favourable to add to compost, with the hair adding protein, carbon, and nitrogen. 

A soil biologist worked with Ms Yong to develop the soil conditioner. 

Human hair is very strong so it needs to be processed before going into soil. (ABC Central Victoria: Shannon Schubert)

How hair breaks down in soil

Sustainable Salons collects hair waste from beauty salons across Australia and New Zealand to prevent it from going to landfill and gives it to businesses like Ms Yong's.

It also collects other waste hair salon products.

"We turn shampoo bottles into sunglasses and coasters and combs," said cofounder Paul Frasca.

It's estimated the business collects 20 per cent of all hair cut in Australian salons.

Even so, the social enterprise estimates about 400,000 kilograms of hair gets cut off and sent to landfill in Australia each year.

Co-founder Paul Frasca says over 12,000 salons are in the collection program. (Supplied: Sustainable Salons)

So far, it has collected 62,247kg of hair from salon floors and diverted it from landfill.

To enable the hair to breakdown in the soil and release its nutrients, the hair is processed after collection, says Mr Frasca.

"If you took hair from a salon and put it in your garden, it would take thousands of years to break down," he said. 

"Hair is extremely strong; it's stronger than glass.

"We send it through a special machine to grind the hair and pulverise the hair … it helps release the nutrients."

The ground hair is then supplied to businesses like Ms Yong's, which is based in Bendigo in central Victoria.

Sustainable Salons has collected almost 63,000kg from salon floors and diverted it from landfill. (ABC Central Victoria: Shannon Schubert)

Hair used to clean up oil spills 

Mr Frasca said hair was one of the hardest things to repurpose — in the beginning.

"With human hair, we actually have had to study it first to understand what it is," he said. 

The company has since been helping to make booms that use human hair to clean up oil spills.

"When we studied hair, we realised that hair is really good at absorbing oil," Mr Frasca said. 

Using repurposed hair in soil conditioners is a game changer for the environment, he said.

"It could heavily reduce the importation of synthetic fertilisers," Mr Frasca said.

"This has definitely started a conversation.

"We now have it in some council areas in community gardens." 

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