Sustainable Salons Australia co-founders Ewelina Forocko (left) and Paul Frasca.

Sustainable Salons Australia, a program to divert 95 per cent of the waste generated in hair salons from landfill, is proving to be a valuable marketing tool for businesses that sign up, according to co-founder and managing director Paul Frasca.

SSA provides salons with a “swap and go” multi-bin system that collects about 95 per cent of all waste for recycling, including colour tubes, chemical wastes and also hair, which comprises around 11 per cent of salon waste.

“We look to get the most value from the waste,” Frasca told The Fifth Estate.

Ponytails are being donated to a children’s alopecia charity, 80 per cent of the shorter waste hair will be used to manufacture hair booms for mopping up oil spills and 20 per cent is being used in community gardening and food growing projects.

“Hair is an amazing absorbent for oil. The making of hair booms has been going on for 15 years in America, with hundreds of thousands of tonnes of hair collected for them. They were used for the BP oil spill,” Frasca says.

“Even the US military is stockpiling them, and they deploy them just like sandbags.”

The hair booms that are going to be made in Australia will be made by TAFE hairdressing students, and the aim is to have a stockpile to protect the Great Barrier Reef in event of an oil spill.

Frasca says the portmaster at Newcastle is also going to keep a couple of hand.

“The hairdressing industry can play a vital role in managing the environmental risk of oil spills. The hair boom is the solution.”

The chemical wastes including perming solutions and dyes go to a company that processes them to produce liquids for industrial processes. Around 25 per cent of the chemicals used in a salon can be recycled in this way.

“As hairdressers we use quite harsh chemicals; this approach diverts some of them from going down the drain and into our waterways,” Frasca says.

The foil and the solution

Frasca, a hairdresser, and co-founder Ewelina Forocko, who holds qualifications in environmental science, first carried out a study of salon waste that showed aluminium foil comprised about 50 per cent of waste.

This led to an initiative called Refoil, which was launched three years ago to support salons in directing foil products to recycling, with 150 salons around the country participating to date.

Frasca said the initiative was saving about 1.7 tonnes of aluminium from going to landfill a year. If every salon in Australia started recycling its foil, it could be as much as 1000 tonnes of aluminium a year being recovered.

“Aluminium is one of the worst metals environmentally to produce from raw materials, but it is infinitely sustainable to recycle,” Frasca says.

The proceeds from on-selling used foil and plastics to recyclers are being used to support OzHarvest, with one roll of Refoil equalling about five meals for homeless persons. The recycling process, which involves smelting waste foil and aluminium tubes at 1200 degrees centigrade, results in any chemical or plastic residues separating out from the metal.

The success of Refoil formed the basis for the new Sustainable Salons initiative.

Massive marketing opportunities getting salons on board

Since SSA officially launched, 20 salons have already signed up to the program with 80 more applications in progress.

The cost to the salon is based on the average number of customers a week and number of waste streams, and works out to be about $1.82 per customer if the full 95 per cent of waste is being collected and recycled.

Frasca, who is also head of sustainability for the Australian Hairdressing Council and co-writes the sustainability component of TAFE hairdressing courses, says there are enormous marketing benefits for salons engaging with the program.

“There is a story with every waste product running through the salon,” he says.

“Customers are coming in and being told that everything that touches their heads is part of a resource recovery process.”

They are also told about the social benefit being generated, something Frasca says is an added benefit for salons as individually, organising the bin systems and linking up with charities can be difficult. This way, he says, the salons are banding together for a cause.

The feedback from salons has been that when they tell clients, clients tell their friends about the sustainability initiatives and their friends then start coming to the salon themselves.

There are also programs for customers as part of the initiative, such as bringing back the bottles for shampoo purchased at the salon and receiving a discount on the next one. There is also a reward program for the salons, with sustainable products including cane waste toilet papers, LED lighting and disposable bamboo biotowels that reduce the need for water and energy use in washing and drying towels, which is the most energy-intensive aspect of any salon’s operation.

Frasca says that the $4 billion Australian hairdressing industry is increasingly looking at the broader aspects of sustainability. As part of the TAFE curriculum, students are now learning about how to undertake greener salon fit outs, with energy-efficient lighting and sustainable materials use.