15th March, 2023
Across the world, millions of tonnes of human and pet hair waste are discarded every year.
Recycling and re-use accounts for just a fraction of that. Current waste disposal of human waste varies across the world and causes a number of problems.
- Hair goes into landfill where it undergoes anaerobic composting, leading to methane release.
- It’s often burnt, releasing toxic and odorous gases including ammonia, carbonyl sulphides, hydrogen sulphides, and sulphur dioxide.
- It’s dumped in the open where it generates dust which can cause respiratory problems.
- In urban areas it can accumulate in waste streams and waterways, causing clogging.
Source: Gupta, Human Hair “Waste” and Its Utilization: Gaps and Possibilities
It makes sense to look for alternative answers.
If we can find ways to use waste products like hair in a way that provides financial and agricultural benefits, the economic incentive will kick in.
This can lead to entrepreneurs solving the problem with minimum use of public resources.
So it’s encouraging to see a recent study by Waliczek et al examine the potential of human hair to make compost.
As the study noted, both human hair and pet fur have characteristics that are ideal for soil.
- They contain essential nutrients which plants need to grow.
- They help retain moisture (which can help in times of drought).
- They can insulate and stabilize the soil.
At the same time, hair and fur can contain heavy metals and chemicals from treatments.
So, to assess whether human hair could be turned into something useful, the researchers composted hair for five months. The test piles used a recipe of 25% hair, 40% wood chips and 35% food waste.
The study found that the results created high-quality compost, adding to other research that shows hair is a great ingredient for well-managed compost piles.
Do note that human hair degrades quite slowly, which could be a problem in slower compost heaps.
Hair is best mixed with other ingredients, including both high nitrogen (greens) and high carbon (browns). Indeed, this is what the researchers did by combining hair with food waste (which is high in nitrogen) and wood chips (which is high in carbon.
By doing the same, you can ensure that you achieve the right composting conditions that help break down materials faster. For more tips be sure to see our home composting guide.