Good hair day: Local locks to help soak up oil spill

By Paul Leighton Staff writer 

BEVERLY — From her seat under a whirring hair dryer inside the Cala Renee Salon yesterday, Angela Cassano was as far removed from the spreading oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico as one could be.

But Cassano, like the rest of the Beverly hair salon's clients, will be doing her part to help in a surprisingly unusual way.

Over the next few days, salon owner Cala Mahoney will be saving her customers' cut hair, packing it in plastic bags and boxes, and shipping it to New Orleans, where it will be used to help absorb one of the biggest oil spills in the country's history.

"Who knew you could use hair to soak up oil spills?" Cassano said, speaking up to be heard over the noise of the hair dryer in the Rantoul Street salon. "In a way,it's a little strange, but it's a nice feeling to know you can help in that way."

The idea of using a few boxes of hair to combat an oil slick the size of Luxembourg might sound quixotic, but the clientele at Cala Renee will have plenty of help.

Mahoney is sending the hair to the Gulf of Mexico through a nonprofit organization called Matter of Trust. The San Francisco-based charity is collecting hundreds of thousands of pounds of hair from salons around the country and overseas. The hair will be stuffed into nylon stockings to create absorbent booms to help contain the oil slick.

"Hair is good at absorbing oil," Mahoney said. "That's why you have to wash it so much."

Mahoney first heard about Matter of Trust about eight months ago, after one of her clients, an 8-year-old boy, told her about the recycling uses of excess hair, such as turning it into mats for gardens.

That conversation sent Mahoney searching for more information on the Internet, where she discovered Matter of Trust. She became a member and ordered posters to put on the wall at her salon, but the organization was not in immediate need of hair.

Then came the April 20 explosion on the underwater oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. Mahoney got an e-mail from Matter of Trust last week saying she would soon be informed of a location where she could send hair. That e-mail arrived yesterday, asking her to mail hair to a warehouse in New Orleans.

Mahoney began collecting discarded hair in a plastic bag that sits inside a cardboard box on one of her chairs. She said the New Orleans warehouse can only accept shipments until Friday because of the volume of boxes expected to arrive. Volunteers take the hair, as well as donated animal fur from groomers, and stuff it into recycled nylons to create the booms.

Mahoney estimates she'll ship out one box today and another on Friday. It might not be much in the face of such an overwhelming environmental disaster. But Mahoney, who has been in business in Beverly for 21 years, said it's a good feeling to help in any way.

"Usually, unfortunately, the hair just gets thrown in the trash," she said. "That's why it's so awesome that there's a good use for it."

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or by e-mail at

Salons donate hair to Gulf oil cleanup

In the nick of time

By Colneth Smiley Jr.
Thursday, May 6, 2010 -

Feeling helpless about the Gulf Coast oil spill? Get a haircut.

Barbershops and salons across the country have collected more than 400,000 pounds of discarded locks for Matter of Trust, a San Francisco nonprofit stuffing absorbent booms with hair to soak up oil along the Gulf of Mexico.

It may be crude, but it works.

“Curley, straight, blonde, brunette - any type of hair will do,” said Cala Mahoney, owner of Cala Renee Salon in Beverly.

Since last month’s oil spill, Mahoney has seen worried customers come in for a clip for the coast.

“We’ve received mutliple e-mails and calls from people saying they want to donate for the oil spills,” Mahoney said.

Gina Marie Drakos, a teacher from Danvers, made an appointment to cut up to 10 inches off her curly top. “You don’t want it in your food or washing up on you at the beach, but it’s not littering and it’s not gross. It’s a natural resource that can be used to solve a problem,” Drakos said.

“I look at it as compost. It’s biodegradable, it’ll decompose and it makes perfect sense rather than an artifical material that’s taxing our environment.”

On April 20, an explosion on a BP oil rig caused an underwater pipe to gush millions of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf Coast. The spill is being called a national disaster, with the worst yet to come.

The hair-made booms are just one of many solutions to contain what may be the largest oil spill in history.

“Hair is a natural absorbant, it sucks up everything,” said Cala Renee stylist Erin Bimbo. “We cut and dump so much hair that it’s nice to see it going to something acutually useful,” she added. “I can’t see me going down there. So this is my way of helping out, and I’m sure a lot of people feel the same way.”

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