Posted: 14 December 2006 at 8:24pm
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Chair Made From Recycled Hair
Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News
Dec. 14, 2006 Hair trimmings at barbershops and beauty salons are often swept up and discarded. But a former London hairdresser, who is now a researcher at London South Bank University, has found a use for the excess cuttings a chair made out of human hair.
In the future, additional products, such as structural beams, shoes, clothing, mascara and boat parts, may also be made out of human hair, which is "a cut above" fiberglass and many other petroleum-based products, according to the chair's inventor, Ronald Thompson.
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"This free, sustainable and abundant resource can be molded into any shape and mixed with any matrix," said Thompson, who was an assistant hairdresser for famed stylists John Frieda and Nicky Clarke.
"It is versatile, waterproof, non-conductive, corrosion free, fire resistant, tough, strong, durable and is able to compete with products, such as medium-density fiberboard, fiberglass, polymers and aluminum," he added.
Thompson, who has styled the locks of many Miss World contestants, was inspired to recycle hair after working on the set of the film "Batman Begins." He stretched a piece of fiberglass, which snapped. He did the same thing to a strand of hair, which withstood far more stretching.
He learned that one strand of hair can support 8,750 times its own weight, a head of hair can support over 13 tons and that hair can double its own length before breaking.
Lab work led to a product called Pilius X, the structural basis for the chair and his other proposed inventions. It's a hair-based bio-polymer mixed with a recyclable bio-resin.
Like hair itself, Pilius X can be dyed to almost any color.
Thompson's furniture creation the ergodynamic "Stiletto chair" contains 4.5 pounds of human hair cuttings. Since the average haircut produces just 0.17 ounce of hair every 6 weeks, it would take an individual 46 years to have enough hair to make a single chair.
Still, the former stylist isn't short on materials.
"The average salon produces this amount of hair cuttings every two weeks," he explained. "Well over 220,000 tons are produced in the United Kingdom per year, while millions of tons are produced worldwide each year."
Julie Muir, president of the California Resource Recovery Association, a non-profit dedicated to promoting recycling projects, was surprised to learn of the chair. Muir commented "it's a great use for hair, which would probably otherwise wind up in a landfill where it would contribute to methane gas, a greenhouse gas linked to global warming."
Muir pointed out that others have found different uses for discarded hair, including some farmers who sprinkle it on the ground to scare away wild boars.
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"The hair retains its human scent, so that's probably what scares the boars," she told Discovery News.
Muir thinks the hair chair is a fun, but also important, idea.
"We need more creative solutions like this for waste problems," she said. "We'd like to see all organic materials out of landfills, and this is just one step toward that goal."
The human hair chair, which is coated with bronze, is priced at just over $15,000. Thompson may develop less expensive models, so the human hair chair could very well be on more holiday gift lists in the not-too-distant future.