Is Hair Biodegradable or Does it Harm the Environment?

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There is a lot of debate surrounding the biodegradability of hair.

Some say that it is not biodegradable and harms the environment, while others think it can be thrown away without consideration and will break down wherever it ends up.

So, what's the truth? Is hair biodegradable or not? The answer is that yes, both animal and human hair does biodegrade, albeit very slowly.

However, hair waste can still be harmful to the environment if it is not disposed of correctly!

Today we examine the truth behind the environmental impact of both natural and synthetic hair, and how to dispose of your hair properly.

What is Hair Made Of?

Hair is an important part of the human body. It helps protect our skin from the sun and keeps our heads warm in cold weather. But have you ever wondered what hair is made of?

Natural hair is made up of a protein called keratin. Keratin is also found in our nails and in the outer layer of our skin. Our hair follicles are located in the skin and produce new cells that are pushed up through the follicle. As the cells move up, they harden and form the strand of hair that we see on the surface of our skin.

The color of our hair is determined by the amount and type of melanin pigment in the hair cells. Melanin is produced by cells in the skin called melanocytes. People with more melanin in their hair will have darker hair.

Hair grows at a rate of about half an inch per month. The average person has about 100,000 hairs on their head. Each day, we lose about 50-100 hairs as part of the normal shedding process.

There's nothing we can do about the hair we shed naturally, and this isn't the problem. It's the hair disposed of by the beauty industry that can be an environmental hazard.

What is Hair Waste?

what happens to hair waste

When you think of waste, hair probably isn't the first thing that comes to mind. But did you know that hair waste is a growing problem?

Every year, millions of pounds of hair end up in landfills. It comes from hairdressers, barbershops, or just via domestic waste. And while hair may seem like an innocuous material, it can actually take years to decompose.

As well as its potential to clog drains and waterways, hair can also create dust when it begins to break down, which can cause health problems if inhaled.

What's worse is that much human hair waste is disposed of in plastic bags. When natural hair inside plastic bags sits in a landfill, it can produce methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.

There are many possible uses for human hair waste, but they require hair to be disposed of in a responsible way in order to mitigate any environmental risks.

If waste human hair is an issue, synthetic hair carries even more problems, but we'll come to that later.

Is Human Hair Biodegradable?

We all know that hair can be a pain when it comes to clogging up your drains. But have you ever wondered what happens to all that hair once it goes down the drain?

The answer is that yes - human hair is biodegradable. In other words, it will eventually break down and decompose, just like any other organic material.

However, how quickly this happens depends on a number of factors, including the type of hair, the chemicals it has been treated with, and the conditions in which it is buried (i.e., moist or dry).

Nevertheless, the bottom line is that human hair does not pose a lasting environmental threat; it will eventually return to the earth from whence it came.

So the next time you’re tempted to throw your hair in the trash, think twice – it may be better off in the compost bin!

Is Animal Hair Biodegradable?

Yes - animal fur, including dog hair and cat hair, is biodegradable and can therefore be composted at home.

Animal hair is a natural material, and as such, it breaks down quickly. This is due to its high nitrogen content, which helps to boost the compost.

However, dog and cat hair does not contain many of the micro-organisms that are required to make healthy compost. Therefore, it shouldn't go into your compost pile on its own.

Instead, put pet hair in with other household food waste. By doing so, you will create a healthy compost that will be good for your plants.

Is Synthetic Hair Biodegradable?

In the quest for fairer, fuller, and more luxurious hair, many people turn to synthetic hair products such as wigs and hair extensions.

However, these synthetic fibers are not biodegradable, which means they can take centuries to break down.

Never put synthetic hair such as a wig or hair extension into your soil or compost. Synthetic hair often contains chemicals that can leach into the environment and cause harm to plants and animals.

For these reasons, it is important to consider the environmental impact of synthetic hair before making a purchase. If you do choose to buy synthetic hair, be sure to dispose of it properly so that it does not end up in landfill.

Is Hair Compostable?

hair in compost

Yes, both animal and human hair can be composted.

However, you should be aware that hair decomposes slowly, and, as mentioned above, it is advisable to add other organic waste such as food scraps to your compost pile in order to help the hair decomposition process.

Whilst it may take a while to decompose, human hair is a good source of nitrogen and will be beneficial to your plants and soil once it is composted fully.

How Long Does it Take for Hair to Decompose?

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, human hair is composed of 95% keratin, which is a strong protein molecule.

This means that it will take longer to decompose than other organic matter like leaves or fruit.

The exact time frame depends on the environment in which the hair is decomposing; for example, hair breaks down more slowly if it is in soil than if it is exposed to air and moisture.

Once decomposition begins, bacteria and fungi will break down the complex keratin molecules into simpler compounds like nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and water.

The process can take anywhere from several weeks to several years.

Does Hair Decompose in Soil?

Hair is also an excellent source of nitrogen and other nutrients, making it valuable for composting.

So, does hair decompose in soil? The answer is yes, but it decomposes very slowly. It can take anywhere between 1 and 2 years for natural human hair to break down completely in soil.

This slow decomposition rate is due in part to the fact that hair is not very porous, which means that it doesn't absorb water well. As a result, hair can take much longer to decompose than other organic materials such as leaves or grass.

Despite its slow decomposition rate, hair is still a valuable addition to any compost pile. In addition to its nutrient content, hair can help aerate the compost and promote drainage.

Is Hair Recyclable?

Yes, recycled hair can be reused and made into new products, most often wigs or hair extensions.

If you want to donate your own hair, it can often go to a very good cause. Some charities actively encourage hair donations, which can be used to make human hair wigs to be used by cancer patients, or people who suffer from conditions such as alopecia.

In some countries, hair donations are used for other purposes. They can be used to make paintbrushes, as stuffing for soft toys or pillows, or even to help clean up oil spills.

Is Hair Harmful to the Environment?

Hair is obviously a naturally occurring substance on the human body and on animals, and is not harmful to the environment in most cases.

However, it can do some damage if it is not disposed of in a responsible way.

  • Human hair waste from salons and barbers disposed of in plastic bags can release methane gas when disposed of in landfills.
  • Synthetic hair products do not biodegrade and can leach chemicals into the earth.
  • Likewise, even human hair that has been bleached or treated with chemical products can then leach those substances when the hair degrades. To avoid this, always use eco-friendly shampoo and conditioners and avoid all harmful chemicals.
  • Large quantities of animal or human hair can clog waterways and encourage the growth of algae, which can harm other marine life.

When disposed of correctly, hair can be composted and can actually become beneficial to the environment by returning valuable nutrients to the soil.

The Final Word

So, is hair biodegradable? We've learned today that the answer is yes, but that it's not quite as simple as just throwing your hair in the trash.

Hair can be composted and will eventually break down, but it takes quite some time for that process to happen. In the meantime, hair can create problems for wastewater treatment plants and contribute to environmental pollution.

If you’re looking for an environmentally-friendly way to dispose of your hair, consider composting it. If you can't do that, try donating it to a local charity or sending it off to a recycling company like Locks of Love. They’ll be able to put it to good use!

Arabella Ruiz is a senior researcher at The Roundup. She lives in San Antonio, Texas and has been interested in the environment from an early age. Arabella loves to campaign for environmental causes and fundraise for charities that aim to preserve wildlife habitat, protect endangered species or help people with climate change problems.
Arabella Ruiz
Arabella Ruiz is a senior researcher at The Roundup. She lives in San Antonio, Texas and has been interested in the environment from an early age. Arabella loves to campaign for environmental causes and fundraise for charities that aim to preserve wildlife habitat, protect endangered species or help people with climate change problems.

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