“During my career as a hairdresser, I began to really wonder about the waste,” says Paul Frasca, who, with Ewelina Soroko, founded the salon-focused resource recovery programme Sustainable Salons in 2015. “I became fascinated with the hair on the floor. I used to live in Amsterdam—that’s where I met Ewelina—and would pack the hair into the furniture to see if my flatmates would notice the difference, and for six months, they didn’t. It’s no different to animal fur or wool, and just as soft. That’s what created this whole movement.”
Sustainable Salons recently expanded to New Zealand, having created a network across Australia whose members include hair, beauty and pet grooming salons. The organisation provides bins and a collection service to gather 95% of those salons’ waste which is redirected “for reuse, recycling and repurposing solutions”.
“It’s not just about being a green programme, we’re coming at it from a liberal green approach, like Tesla,” says Paul. “We are trying to solve a problem while creating a resource of the future. A million kilos of aluminium foils go to Australian landfills each year, and in New Zealand, it’s 400,000kg. Just from foiling hair. It’s bonkers. Why was no-one recycling it and doing some good?”
Between February 2015 and November 2017, the collective kept 52,000kg of plastic in circulation that otherwise would have headed to a landfill, while 81,700kg of metals were also diverted from a similar fate. Sustainable Salons recycled 70,800kg of paper, 7,500 litres of chemicals and 800kg of e-waste. They saved the equivalent CO2 as 180 flights between London and Sydney and enough water to fill nearly a quarter of a million baths.
Ponytails longer than 20cm are sent to charities to create wigs for people suffering from alopecia or cancer (Sustainable Salons is the southern hemisphere’s largest donor of ponytails), and work with community groups like KiwiHarvest here in New Zealand, and OzHarvest across the ditch.
“The best part is that 100% of the proceeds from these recycled materials goes back into the community,” says Paul. “For every $1 donated by Sustainable Salons, two meals are provided to the most vulnerable in our communities—and we average 2,000 meals per month.”
The programme has also initiated the Hair Boom Project that sees hair clippings stuffed into sausage-like stockings that are deployed to clean up oil spills along coastlines (it has been discovered that hair has exceptional adsorption properties), and partners with the Endeavour Foundation to provide jobs for those with disabilities. Such projects have seen Sustainable Salons bag heaps of industry and environmental awards.
“We always said that as soon as we got Australia off the ground, then we’d focus on New Zealand and that’s what we’re doing,” Paul tells me over the phone from Sydney. “It’s very early days, but we already have 50 of Auckland’s leading salons on the programme.”
One such salon is D&M Hair Design. “I first met Paul at Hair Expo in Australia three years ago,” says Danny Pato, creative director and co-owner at D&M. “I’ve been interested in sustainability for a long time with our key product company for several years being Davines Sustainable Beauty that has been at the forefront of the movement.”
Paul says that there is now a “flood of salons” from across Aotearoa who wish to sign up to the Sustainable Salons directory. “You name the area, we get enquiries,” he says. “It’s just about managing which we can service. We’re not a product, we are a service, and the vehicles can only reach so far.”
Those that do sign up have access to Sustainable Salons’ “messaging, information, design collateral and branding, and community affiliations” which “improves the salon’s environmental credentials and attract a new type of clientele”. Members will also make savings on “everyday salon essentials and business growth tools” from the Rewards Shop.
Paul adds that it’s not just customers who are lured by the promise of a greener experience, but job searchers too are seeking out salons already signed up to the programme, making it a great recruiting tool also.
“I feel like we have closed the loop, so we can guarantee sustainability with what we use and what happens afterwards,” says Danny. “It’s given us the opportunity to get our clients and our team inspired about sustainability in everyday life. Now we’re not part of the problem, we’re part of the revolution.”
Next time you’re having your hair styled or dog groomed, be sure to check out The Green Chair, a newspaper sent out to all members to inform readers about what’s going on in “Sustainable Salons land”. And if your salon is not a member, then ask them why the hell not.
For more information about Sustainable Salons and for a directory of members in your area, visit the website sustainablesalons.org
Words: Jamie Christian Desplaces