This Professor's 9-Inch Beard Protects The Environment From Oil Spills. Here's How.

It's the perfect solution to a hairy situation.

An associate biology professor at Dickinson College, Scott Boback, recently made headlines for using his dope-as-Dumbledore beard to save the earth

How'd he do it? 

He cut it off.

Then, he donated it to Matter of Trust, an environmental organization that uses hair to soak up oil spills.

In 1999, Phil McCrory, a hair stylist and inventor from Alabama, came up with this idea when he happened to be washing an oily head while watching CNN coverage of otters covered in oil during the Exxon Valdez oil spill

Up until then, whenever an oil company caused a spill, they would soak it up using petroleum-based mats and booms. 

Basically, these companies had to drill more oil to clean up the oil they'd already drilled... and spilled.

Soon after McCrory's epiphany, he entered into a partnership with Matter of Trust's founder and president Lisa Gautier to create the Clean Wave Program, breaking the oil industry's vicious cycle with a more efficient, renewable, and natural "eco-alternative."

A demonstration conducted by Matter of Trust comparing a hair boom (left) with a conventional boom (right). 
A demonstration conducted by Matter of Trust comparing a hair boom (left) with a conventional boom (right).  Giphy

While Boback spent almost two years growing out his nine-inch beard, Matter of Trust accepts hairs of all lengths. They also accept hair in any condition, good news for those who'd like to donate their hair to Locks of Love or similar organizations but can't because it's been dyed or otherwise damaged,. 

Even if you don't have hair to spare, you can still do your part for the planet. The Clean Wave Program also accepts fur, wool, fleece, feathers, and even laundry lint. So every time you wash your clothes, you can help ensure you'll have clean water to wash your clothes (and do everything else important) for years to come. 

A box of fur donations from Best Friends Pet Care. 
A box of fur donations from Best Friends Pet Care.  Matter of Trust

Once collected, these fibers are felted into hair mats or stuffed into donated nylon stockings to make hair "booms" used to soak up oil spills. 

Because these fibers would otherwise end up in the waste stream, recycling them into useful products that help clean our environment makes the Clean Wave Program sustainable from beginning to end.  

Even the finished air mats and booms can be wrung out and reused many times. Public works and hazardous materials teams rarely do so, however, due to dirt, seaweed, rocks, and other issues. According to Matter of Trust's website, "This is all the more reason to have these oil spill clean up materials be made out of renewable, natural, non-toxic materials that can be composted." 

After the 2007 Cosco-Busan oil spill, Matter of Trust conducted its first experiment remediating and composting the oily hair waste. Over an 18-month period, they treated the oily mats with oyster mushrooms, then thermophilic composting, and finally vermiculture (worms). 

This processing combination turned the hazardous waste into healthy compost. They also proved this disposal method was not only a more sustainable, but actually viable, alternative to typical oil disposal methods of incinerating the materials or burying them in lined landfills marked "hazardous waste."

When the BP Deepwater Horizon Gulf Coast Spill occurred in 2010, Matter of Trust was there.

Hair booms used to clean up the BP oil spill. 
Hair booms used to clean up the BP oil spill.  Matter of Trust

Working with volunteers, the organization initiated a huge mobilization to gather waste fibers and make hair booms. Their 19 warehouses received hair, fur, fleece, and nylon donations from across North America and 30 other countries. Many others hosted "cut-a-thons," "shave-a-thons" and "Boom B Qs" to gather donations and stuff nylons, which were then used in Alabama and Florida.  

Since then, Matter of Trust has partnered with Inlet Guard to place hair mats in storm drains as part of a 2014 pilot study in Garland, Texas. Together, they're testing the everyday potential of hair mats to soak up motor oil and collect street runoff debris. 

Besides benefitting the environment on both a large and small scale, Matter of Trust has also created initiatives to boost the economy and provide education opportunities.

With FeltCrafts in New Mexico, the Clean Wave program is currently creating "green jobs" felting donated loose waste fibers and funding research to design and manufacture more affordable, needle punch felting machines. They hope to increase local employment initiatives and make collecting waste fibers the new "paper route after school job."

A woman works on a FeltCrafts felting machine.
A woman works on a FeltCrafts felting machine. Matter of Trust

Matter of Trust also teaches the next generation about the importance of recycling, clean water, and compost through in-school and after-school programs. Mats, booms, and loose fibers are used in classroom oil spill clean up demos. Classes in the San Francisco can even take field trips to the Matter of Trust Eco-Center for Clean Wave demo presentations.  

For more information on how to donate your hair and other fibers, visit Matter of Trust's Excess Access page.