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A human hair usually denotes something ridiculously small, as in "splitting hairs," "saved by a hair," "hairline fracture."

So the idea that haircuts might have ecological significance for the Gulf of Mexico takes a change of perspective.

And a bit of postage.

Stylists at Gregg's Hair Co. in Missoula decided to put their customers' clippings to a higher cause by sending it to an organization that uses human and animal hair to contain oil spills. It's part of a national campaign to combat the British Petroleum spill off the coast of Louisiana.

"This is the reason we shampoo hair - because it collects oil," Gregg's stylist Shelley Fister said. "They're trying to get as many salons involved across America as they can. We just started yesterday."

The hair is going to a group called Matter of Trust. It got started in 1988 by Lisa and Patrice Gautier (he was the vice president of the Apple iTunes Store). They developed several recycling/donation programs over the decade. The hair-oil concept initially was set up as a small-scale pollution response, with hair supplies stockpiled in numerous places around the nation.

That system has been refocused by the Gulf oil disaster, and all hair is now going to Matter of Trust's oil boom efforts there, according to the group's website.

Hair donations should be free of all other garbage. The website reminds participants to "remember volunteers (sometimes young students have to stuff this hair into booms and don't want to feel garbage or anything sharp." Nylon stockings are also solicited, because that's what the hair goes into for the booms.

"We fill a 13-gallon trash can about twice a week," salon owner Gregg Baker said. Previously, most of that hair went to the landfill. A few people would collect it as a deer deterrent for their gardens.

Fister said the one other common donation for customer hair was to make wigs for cancer patients. At least one person managed to do both - saving a major hair cut for the wigs and the following trim work for the oil booms.

Dog-grooming shops also contribute, as do sheep shearers, horse trimmers and other businesses dealing with natural fibers.

The salon also donates the postage for mailing the hair. Matter of Trust so far has received more than 500,000 pounds every few days, according to its website. The mailing location has changed 19 times as individual processing communities are overloaded.

Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at rchaney@missoulian.com.

 

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