By Alex Hoffman
CERES Outreach Educator
Sustainability is too often mistaken for a particular area of expertise or field of study whereas it is, in fact, a way of thinking that can be applied to all aspects of our life and society. This struck me quite unexpectedly upon a recent visit to the hairdresser. While I did not go in for any highlights to my hair, the experience was nonetheless illuminating.
Hair and beauty were never an area I readily associated with the environmental movement. In fact, my visits to the hairdresser in the past would usually coincide with a confused look at my surrounds and a habitual attempt to assess the environmental impacts of the service being delivered. Instead of reading Women’s Weekly, I’d be wondering “What’s in this product? Where did it come from? Is the packaging from a recycled source? What chemicals do they use here and where do they end up?” On this particular visit though, the woman cutting my hair was quite excited to hear I worked in environmental education. She exclaimed “we used to sweep up our hair and take it to Ceres to compost it!” This was over 20 years ago and is no longer the case. Instead, they found another solution to their hair waste through an organization called Sustainable Salons.
Sustainable Salons Australia was founded 9 years ago by Paul Frasca and Ewelina Sorocko, and they don’t just deal with hair. Concerned about the volume of waste generated by salons with nowhere to go except into a landfill or into a small yellow recycling council bin, they developed a comprehensive resource waste recovery scheme which recovers 95% of materials. The waste streams include hair, paper, food, plastics, metals including aluminum foil, chemicals, razors and hairdressing tools/electronic waste.
Image from Sustainable Salons Australia website
Hair from salons such as the one I visited is recovered for multiple purposes. Ponytails are donated to Variety – The Children’s Charity to be made into wigs for children with alopecia and cancer. Other hair is swept up and transformed into hair booms, sausage-like stockings that are stuffed with hair. The booms have been designed to clean up oil spills along the Australian coast.
Image of the hair boons from ABC news article
There is also a social component to the business model. 100% of the profits from all recycled material goes back into the community via Oz Harvest. For every $1 donated, two meals are provided to hungry Australians. In turn, salons accumulate points that can go towards subsidizing the cost of purchasing organic and sustainable products on their online website.
Image from Sustainable Salons website
Another salon that I first visited over 10 years ago, has also made the switch to Sustainable Salon. The owner of Mink Hair and Body in Parkville, Debbie, has always felt that the greening of this industry was “a long time coming”. Their waste situation used to be a nightmare as their bins couldn’t accommodate the volume of recyclable materials they generated (which sometimes Debbie would be taking home to put into their household recycling to save from landfill). The majority of materials went into landfill. Since signing up to Sustainable Salons in 2016 they have diverted 13 wheelie bins of materials away from landfill each year.
Operationally, there is a monthly fee for the service based on the amount of waste the salon generates to be recovered. This cost is then built into a $2 green fee for each time a client visits. Debbie explains that some businesses would be deterred by this hike in cost, “it’s hard being a small business” she acknowledges, “but if you don’t move with the times, you’ll get left behind”. The shift in the salon’s sustainability culture mirrors the shift in attitude in her clients and employees too. It has attracted new clients and many of the people who come through the door are now inquiring about the environmental impact of the products and where they end up. As Debbie sees it, being a Sustainable Salon “pays for itself, makes life easier and, importantly, you’re doing the right thing”. There are now over 450 Sustainable Salons nationwide.
Certificate of Positive Impact, on display at Mink Hair and Body
“In total, the salon has saved 13 wheelie bins of valuable resources from ending up in landfill”
Another friend who is an independent hairdresser and a long-time advocate for the sustainable transformation of the industry, Kristian Brown, provided some further insights into this world. Early on in his career, he was concerned that shampoos and hair dyes were reportedly causing irritated scalps and other issues. In the 90s he began investigating safer, more natural alternatives to hair products that were ammonia, sulfate and paraben free. This led him to products that were more organic, that did not harm himself, his clients nor the environment. The products he prefers are primarily from overseas, “Australia was behind the eight ball back then, whereas Europe was already considering sustainable products and solutions in the industry”.
Images from Kristian_Brown_Hair Instagram page including info on some of the natural products he uses
This initial investigation into safer hair products sparked a whole revolution in Kristian’s practice as a hairdresser. Sustainability had started to permeate every aspect of his work, “once you start thinking in this way, you just want to start doing anything you can in a daily way that’s positive. What can I do that won’t harm me, the customers or the environment?”
It’s a point of engagement with his clients too. Instead of taking home a bag full of products, they may leave with left-over Fairtrade coffee grounds to make facial masks or body scrub, or even a bag of their own hair to add to a compost bin. Even Kristian’s business cards are made of a biodegradable recycled cotton fiber. He now consults other hair salons on natural dying and is flying to the World Organic Hair Conference in Paris this September to meet with other passionate advocates and leaders for sustainable salons across the globe.
As we see education and knowledge support an understanding of our intimate reliance on this planet, the word sustainability is increasingly synonymous with innovation and best-practice across all areas. It requires creativity and problem-solving and the ability to reimagine our industries and workplaces. Kristian is excited by the momentum that is now building around Sustainable Salons Australia, as well as globally; “It’s spreading, it’s really exciting! I’ve been in the industry since the 1990s and the changes since then have been massive. None of us were talking about this back then”. I feel hopeful and look forward to my next visit to the hairdresser, and hearing how this industry continues to grow and evolve sustainably.
To find out more about Sustainable Salons Australia or to find a Sustainable Salon near you, visit the website.