Sarah Jane Truman’s environmental roots run deep. She proudly boasts of having founded her elementary school’s Kids for Saving Earth Program and jokingly acknowledges that she’s “kind of a hydro Nazi around my house. I have, like, little reminders up for people to shut the lights off if you leave a room.”
So when she became a hairstylist 12 years ago, she was struck with pangs of guilt every time she flushed dyes and chemical treatments down the sink, or threw used foils and colour bottles into the garbage. When she found out that hair releases methane as it biodegrades, she almost had a panic attack.
“It was like, 12 years of ‘Aaagh!’ ” Truman reflects in conversation at the Beehive Hair Lounge (3904 Fraser Street), the salon she co-owns with stylist Sarah Campbell. “And then there’s the bigger picture: women and men have been going to hair salons and getting their hair cut for God knows how long, and all that hair just sitting, making methane gas in landfills everywhere, must be contributing hugely to the greenhouse effect.”
Enter Green Circle Salons, the first company focused on addressing the waste of the styling industry. Founded in Toronto in 2009, the organization has quickly expanded across the country and into the U.S. and set up a regional office in B.C. two years ago.
Last month, the Beehive became the 153rd salon in the province to sign on with the company, alongside the Axis and Suki’s chains and numerous smaller independents, including Heartbreaker Salon (629 Kingsway), Googh Salon (2001 Commercial Drive), and Lisa’s Chop Shop (519 Abbott Street), among others.
“Basically, our entire business is to serve a problem that our industry has with waste,” explains Green Circle’s B.C. regional director, Jennifer Henry, by phone. “If you’re a salon owner and you walk into a recycler with one big bag of foils, that recycler will say, ‘That’s not what I will take or desire to recycle. I work in volume.’ Really what we are is a community of salons pooling our waste.”
Green Circle makes a weekly collection of hair, paper, plastic, metals, and chemicals. The foils and plastics are cleaned and recycled, and the chemicals are sent to a chemical-waste plant. As for the hair? It’s being diverted from the landfill and made into oil-absorbing booms for oil-spill containment by inmates at the Alouette Correctional Centre for Women in Maple Ridge, who are paid to stuff the hair into used stockings.
“We have 11,000 pounds of human hair, I estimate, right now sitting in our [Burnaby] warehouse,” Henry reports. “Some of it is in booms, and some is waiting to be made into booms. It just keeps growing.”
Clients of the participating salons are charged an eco fee of $1.50, which Truman says has been readily accepted.
According to Green Circle, the Canadian salon industry produces an estimated 2,355 tonnes of solid waste per year and flushes an annual 2,148 tonnes of chemical waste into waterways. Last year, Henry says, the company diverted 198,000 pounds of solid waste and 2,000 pounds of chemicals. It’s also just launched a new smartphone app, My Green Salon, which will direct users to certified sustainable salons.
For Truman, finally being able to assuage the years of accumulated eco-guilt has been a huge relief. “It’s a load off my conscience,” she remarks. “But it’s also amazing to think that they’re not just composting [the hair trimmings]. They’re actually using it to help clean up the planet.”