SAN FRANCISCO — There are several ways to remove oil from the ocean after an oil spill like the one in Orange County, and one of those methods includes using leftover locks and pet fur.
Environmental nonprofit Matter of Trust, headquartered in San Francisco, uses donations from hair salons and pet groomers to create hair mats that help absorb the oil.
The organization's Clean Wave Program felts waste fibers into mats that soak up the chemicals derived from petroleum.
"All of that waste instead of going into landfill can actually be brought in and made into a hair mat where it can have a second life," said Betty Gaillard, director of operations at Matter of Trust.
Gaillard said the number of calls of people wanting to donate hair significantly increases anytime there is a disaster like the one in Huntington Beach.
Lonnie Allen, a hair felter at Matter of Trust, is tasked with using the short hair donations to create a thick layer of filler that makes the mats sturdy.
"After this, I feed it through a machine and then I sandwich everything with another scrim on top and then make it into a perfect square," Allen said.
The longer pieces of hair are run through a different machine that forms a thin layer to place on the top and bottom of the mats.
One of the organization's priorities is to empower youth like Allen to explore green careers. The recent high school graduate said working at an eco-industrial hub is about more than just earning a paycheck and building his resume.
"I'm actually making a change in the world and I hadn't found an opportunity to do that until now," Allen said.
The 18-year-old adds he feels proud of his work because he knows the hair mats he is making help mitigate the impact of oil spills.
"Personally, I feel like I haven't been doing much to help the world be more healthy and I feel like this was a good way to do that," Allen said.
The hair mats that Allen and his colleagues make to soak up oil during spills also are being used in storm drains.
Thanks to funds from the general public, private foundations, community groups and government grants, the nonprofit operates.
Hubs like the one in San Francisco can also be found in Texas, Oklahoma, Florida and throughout Europe.
The flagship location, where Gaillard and Allen work, is one of the few where people can cut their hair and donate it directly.
"It's fantastic that the hair goes straight from here to the mats to helping with oil spills," said one woman who was getting a haircut.
While Matter of Trust did not deploy hair mats to Orange County, Lisa Gautier, co-founder of the environmental charity, said she has been in touch with the governor's office and the California volunteers' team about ways to help in the future.
Gautier explained the hair mats are still a new concept to many contractors hired to clean up oil. However, Gautier noted the nonprofit is collecting hair, fur and fleece in Southern California for oil collection in storm drains and continual oil spills.
For those who do not live near a hub and want to get involved, Gautier suggests using the website humsum.net or matteroftrust.org to learn where and how to donate hair, fur, feathers and even laundry lint.
As for Allen, he's grateful to work for an organization that teaches him how to live a more sustainable lifestyle.
"There's no end to helping the environment so I'd like to continue doing that for as long as I can," he said.
For now, that means one hair mat at a time.