Hair is everywhere. We all have it and we all shed it, whether it’s the hair on your head or the hair on the rest of your body.
But what happens to this hair once we lose it. Is hair biodegradable, or is it just lying somewhere in the environment? We find out in this article.
What is Hair?
Hair is a protein filament that grows from follicles found in the skin or dermis. The human body is covered in follicles which produce thick terminal and fine vellus hair. The only areas of the body that don’t have these follicles are known as glabrous skin.
Hair is an important biomaterial mainly composed of protein, the most important protein being alpha-keratin. Hair is one of several characteristics that define mammals.
Is Hair Biodegradable?
Yes, hair is biodegradable.
Given enough time, hair will eventually biodegrade into its base elements, the main elements being carbon, nitrogen and sulfur.
How Long Does Hair Take to Biodegrade?
Generally, hair biodegrades after 2 years of being shed. This will vary depending on the condition’s hair is exposed to over time.
To provide this longevity, your hair is made with keratin. Keratin is a structural protein which gives your hair the ability to withstand the wear and tear of daily life.
Hair is designed to be as durable as possible. As hair grows, it does not fall out immediately.
Even after death, hair lasts far longer than the rest of your body.
Does Hair Decompose in Soil?
Yes, hair will also decompose in soil.
The rate of decomposition has been tested and is considered to be around 1 to 2 years in soil. This can vary based on the type of soil and the conditions found underground. Soil temperature, moisture content and acidity can have an impact on how quickly hair biodegrades.
Egyptian Mummies have been discovered with their hair still intact, but this is only possible due to the way these bodies were preserved through mummification.
The facts surrounding hair decomposition also apply to most types of animal hair. Human hair should be treated like dog or cat hair when being disposed of.
Is Hair Eco Friendly?
In most parts of the world, human hair is considered a waste problem.
While human hair does decompose, it takes several years for this to happen naturally. Because of this, hair will often accumulate in undesirable places.
Hair often causes blockages within drainage systems and can act as catalyst for making existing blockages even worse. Just think about how hair clogs shower drains and apply this to sewage systems.
The other problem is that when hair does biodegrade, it breaks down into chemicals that can cause harm to the environment. Nitrogen, for example, can cause water pollution in large enough quantities.
Hair can cause several environmental problems. The key to protecting the environment is being able to dispose of large quantities of hair safely and responsibly.
Is Synthetic Hair Bad for the Environment?
Synthetic hair is becoming increasingly common for cosmetic and beauty purposes. Synthetic hair is used to make wigs and hair extensions and is made from materials such as:
Synthetic hair often has the look and feel of real hair but can be easier to style. It is also cheaper than buying real hair.
Unfortunately, synthetic hair carries a greater negative environmental impact as synthetic hair is not biodegradable.
Synthetic hair is always made from a type of plastic, all of which are created by using petroleum-based resources which are a huge source of pollution.
The hair extension and wig market are growing, and the industry is eventually expected to be worth $10 billion. Most of this growth will come from synthetic hair sources as human hair is hard to source ethically.
To combat the plastic problem with synthetic hair, some companies such as the Raw Hair Society are innovating with more sustainable options.
Based in Australia, Raw Hair Society products uses fibers from banana trees to create synthetic fibers that are comparable to plastic. These products are semi-synthetic but are also biodegradable.
If you do not own a biodegradable synthetic wig or hair extensions, you need to be careful when disposing of these products. They will not decompose and should be reused or recycled if possible.
Can Hair Be Recycled?
Yes, hair can be recycled.
Some people reuse hair for arts and textiles. It can also be used to make jewelry, clothing, sculptures and much more.
Human hair can also be donated. We suggest searching the internet to see if there is anywhere local to you that will take your unwanted hair cuttings. There are many charities that accept hair donations to make wigs for cancer patients who have lost their hair.
There is also ongoing research to find other uses for recycled hair. Students in India found that recycled human hair can be used to reinforce concrete to make it stronger and more flexible.
Researchers in Australia have started to experiment with using human hair in electronic devices where this hair is broken down to its carbon elements. These elements can then be repurposed as electronic components.
Recycling hair is possible and is a great way to minimize waste and increase sustainability.
Is Hair Compostable?
Hair can be composted and can be turned into an effective fertilizer.
When composting, you should balance the amount of hair you add with other organic material. Your compost should also be aerated to prevent the hair from forming clumps.
To encourage decomposition, water should be added to your composter. A warmer climate will also help promote efficient composting.
Only add clean, non-dyed hair to your composter. Hair dye and bleach can leech into your compost bin which can slow down the rate of decomposition.
Hair is such a good addition to your compost bin because it is a source of nitrogen which is great for soil and compost.
Alternatively, you can add a layer of hair to your soil. Be sure to mix it in under the surface so it doesn’t blow away. As it decomposes, it will add nitrogen and other nutrients to the soil.
Hair is biodegradable, compostable and recyclable.
The best way to dispose of hair is to compost it at home. If you can’t, consider donating your hair to a charitable cause.
Hair is organic, so its impact on the environment is low, but we should still make sure that it is disposed of as responsibly as possible.