Is Hair Biodegradable? (What You Should Know)

Megan

When we think about waste, usually we think about things that we consume.

We look at the products that we buy and the packaging that we throw out.

However, human waste is another large component of our environmental impact.

To that end, we should look at hair more closely.

You may have a lot of it or a little of it, but what do you do with it when it comes time for disposal?

When you clean out your drains or brush, where should that hair go?

We will examine the issue of hair disposal in more depth by covering the following topics:

  • Biodegradability
  • Decomposition
  • Disposal in soil
  • Synthetic hair
  • Recyclability
  • Compostability

Is Hair Biodegradable?

Because hair is grown naturally, most people will assume that it has a neutral impact on the environment.

This is not the case. In most areas of the world, human hair is considered problematic waste.

While human hair does decompose, it takes several years for the process to happen naturally.

Eventually, with enough time and exposure to the elements, hair breaks down to its base components. This includes carbon, nitrogen and sulfur.

Due to the reality that decomposition is slow, hair can accumulate in unfortunate places.

Hair is notorious for clogging important drainage systems. We have all seen how hair can clog our shower drain. The problem is so much worse when you look at bigger community drainage systems.

The fact that hair breaks down into its base elements poses other environmental risks.

The amount of nitrogen produced by decaying human hair can cause various forms of water pollution. This can impact the entire water supply.

Therefore, hair is clearly a biodegradable product.

However, the nature of its decomposition creates several environmental risk factors. Therefore, it is important to assess the best ways to dispose of hair.

How Long Does Hair Take to Decompose?

To understand the impact of hair in the environment, consider the documented rate of decomposition. Distinctively, hair is naturally produced to resist decomposition.

The reasons for this are fairly obvious. As hair grows, it does not fall out right away. Instead, it is meant to endure. In order to provide this longevity, your hair is made with keratin.

Keratin is a structural protein. It gives your hair the ability to withstand the rigors of life.

Even after death, hair is sustained in a way the rest of the body is not. As natural decay happens to the rest of the body, human hair remains largely intact for a much longer period of time.

In general, decomposition occurs after about two years. This will vary depending on the elements the hair is exposed to over time.

Does Hair Decompose in Soil?

In particular, hair’s ability to decompose in different conditions is worth a closer look.

After all, mummies have been discovered with their hair still intact. This was only possible because of the unique way mummies were prepared.

What about soil? Most human waste ends up in the ground at some point, which means that it is important to know how hair reacts to the soil in natural conditions.

The answer has been tested and proven in scientific studies. It takes between one and two years for hair to break down in soil.

Still, specific soil conditions will affect the rate of decomposition. The decomposition will occur faster if the area is warm and moist.

These facts are true for human hair. They are also applicable to most types of animal hair. In this sense, human hair should be treated like dog or cat hair upon disposal.

Is Synthetic Hair Bad for the Environment?

So far we have talked about natural human hair. However, this may not be the only hair in your life. Many people also use synthetic hair.

Synthetic hair is used in wigs or hair extensions. It is constructed from man-made elements. This could include the following:

  • PVC
  • Acrylic
  • Vinyl
  • Polyethylene-terephthalate
  • Polyester
  • Silk
  • Silicone

Recently, synthetic hair has become quite popular. It can have the look and feel of hair, but it is often more affordable and easier to style.

However, synthetic hair carries a different environmental impact. The most notable problem is that synthetic hair not generally biodegradable.

All of the materials listed above are related to plastic. Plastic is known for its inability to decompose in the environment.

This means that synthetic hair can pose a real problem when thrown out. While many people invest in wigs for years, they are often not shared or passed on.

More than that, the hair extension and wig market is growing. The industry is expected to be worth $10 billion.

A large section of this growth is expected to come from synthetic sources. Human hair is hard to procure ethically. It can also be too expensive for some consumers.

To compensate, many people will seek out synthetic wigs or extensions to deal with their hair styling needs.

In order to combat the plastic problem in synthetic hair, some companies are stepping up with more sustainable options. One example is Raw Society Hair.

Based out of Australia, Raw Society Hair uses fibers from the banana tree to create synthetic fibers that rival plastic. This means that the products from Raw Society Hair are both synthetic and biodegradable.

More development needs to be done. While it is possible to find synthetic hair with minimal environmental impact, it is not an easy task.

If you are interested in sustainable synthetic hair, then research your preferred brand carefully before making a purchase.

If you do not have a biodegradable synthetic wig or extensions, then you will need to take extra care in your disposal. These items will not decompose, and they should be thrown out with all due caution.

Can Hair Be Recycled?

As we have discussed already, hair is slow to decompose naturally. While it will eventually degrade, the timeframe can make it an environmental hazard.

Therefore, in order to deal with hair waste, recycling should be considered as an apt alternative.

Some people reuse hair for a variety of art or textiles. It can be used in clothing, jewelry, sculptures and more.

If you are looking for something a little less niche, then there are other options. If you are thinking about cutting your hair dramatically, then be sure to look into hair donation.

The demand for human hair in wigs or extensions is established. There are various programs that accept hair donations to make wigs for cancer patients who have lost their hair due to treatment.

This option is a great way to get rid of your hair in a safe manner while also doing something good for other people.

The biggest obstacle to this route is that you usually have to cut a substantial amount of hair in order to make a viable donation.

There is ongoing research to find other uses for recycled hair. Just look at the work of enterprising students in India. Their project used recycled human hair to reinforce concrete.

When human hair was added to the concrete, the blocks were stronger and more flexible. The applications of such a discovery could be quite diverse and powerful.

Other researchers in Australia have started to experiment with using human hair in electronic devices.

In this process, human hair is broken down to harness its carbon elements. These elements can then be repurposed for technical development.

As more people understand the possibilities of hair, more options are likely to be discovered.

The reality is that recycling hair is possible. In fact, recycling hair can be a great way to minimize waste and create a cycle of overall sustainability.

Is Hair Compostable?

While there are a lot of new and exciting uses for hair, there are some tried and true disposal methods to consider. Hair can be composted, and it can be leveraged as an effective fertilizer.

When composting, try to balance the amount of hair you add with a sufficient amount of greens. The compost should be properly aerated to prevent the hair from forming lumps.

The promote decomposition, water must be added. A warmer climate is better than a colder one.

Take care when composting treated hair. Dyes and bleaches applied to hair can leech into your compost bin. This can affect your composting efforts in a negative way.

Hair is a good addition to your compost bin because it is a source of nitrogen. The nitrogen can have a positive impact on your compost.

If you do not have the time to compost, you can also just use hair as a fertilizer directly. When added as a layer to your soil, the hair will slowly decompose and add nutrients to the soil.

Plants may be able to use up to 50 percent of the nitrogen released by the hair. This can support better growth in a substantial way.

The main drawback of hair as a fertilizer is that it works slowly. It is best used alongside other fertilizers to optimize plant growth.

Conclusion

It is important to never take your hair for granted. When you have hair to dispose of, then take care to do so properly.

Hair is slow to decompose, but its viable natural properties make it perfect for composting and recycling.

Keep these options in mind to protect your hair and protect your environment for years to come.

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