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February 17, 2021

Sustainable Salons: Innovative Solutions for Better Recycling

An appointment at the hairdressers produces a lot of waste, but a more collective approach is unlocking many creative solutions that allow us to reuse those leftovers.

Founded in Sydney in 2015, Sustainable Salons is a resource recovery service finding ways to use the by-products generated by salons to help the community. With 908 participating salons and counting, the small business is helping hairdressers, barbers, beauty and dermatology clinics, and even pet groomers recycle of 95% of their waste products sustainably.

From empty shampoo bottles and foils to leftover hair and chemical-filled water, salons produce a huge amount of waste that is difficult to dispose of. The volume of rubbish makes it difficult for individual salon owners to ensure properly recycling, and the form that many of these items take – such as the small cuts of aluminium foils used for hair dye – are not easily processed by standard kerbside collection services. As a result, many products are simply thrown out and end up in landfill. However, by providing salons with sorting bins and processing the waste in their own specialised depots, Sustainable Salons is able to compile each type of material and make the most of reusing them collectively in creative ways.

Some of their most impressive solutions for recycling salon waste involve the reuse of hair. Not only are they the southern hemisphere’s largest collector of ponytails, passing them on to charities like Variety and private wigmakers who create wigs for people with leukemia and alopecia, but they’ve also found a way to use the leftovers to clean up major oil spills. Funded by Sustainable Salons, researchers at the University of Technology Sydney have developed Hair Booms: stockings stuffed with scraps and tuffs of hair that can absorb oil and prevent it from further damaging the environment. For other sources of waste, metals such as hair foils and parts from old tools are sold in bulk, with all proceeds donated to OzHarvest and KiwiHarvest to provide food to those in need, while paper, plastics, and chemicals are also treated and sent for recycling. In the last five years, Sustainable Salons has collected over 550,000kg of waste, saving it from landfill and providing for the community at the same time.

Sustainable Salons’ commitment to making the beauty industry better doesn’t stop with recycling solutions. A rewards system allows member salons to earn points that can purchase more sustainable products, such as biodegradable gloves, at no extra cost. Sustainable Salons also regularly runs community events to provide free haircuts for homeless people and at-risk youth, and have a program of supported employees that makes it easier for people with disabilities to work at their processing depots. In order to become a Sustainable Salon, businesses are required to charge an additional $2 fee for each haircut, but many participants have found that joining the network has also increased their number of customers. Three thousand consumers search Sustainable Salons’ directory every month, as more and more people want to know that their haircut is supporting the community and the planet.

Creating sustainable industries isn’t just about recycling to protect the environment: it’s about figuring out how every aspect of a service or business can be focused on producing better outcomes for the whole community. Sustainable Salons is turning the problem of salon waste into a solution, with innovations that can make us proud of our new haircut in more ways than one.

For more insights into how customers can help create a more sustainable industry, check out our feature on the ethical fashion app, Good On You.

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