Calling Rapunzel—Clean Up the Oil Spill

May 7, 2010 Updated: October 1, 2015

A shrimp boat passes through a heavy oil slick as it uses the deployed oil boom and absorption pads to collect the oil from the massive oil spill on May 5.  (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
A shrimp boat passes through a heavy oil slick as it uses the deployed oil boom and absorption pads to collect the oil from the massive oil spill on May 5. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
When the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico happened the need was obvious— how could we clean it up?

Matter of Trust had already set up production of oil-absorbing mats using the discarded hair from beauty salons. The mats were used in car repair shops as well as in the San Francisco Bay. The organization used the characteristic of hair, its oil-absorbing ability, to enable a company to make equipment to lift oil out of the seawater.

The Boston Herald reported that the organization collected more than 400,000 pounds of discarded locks for Matter of Trust, a San Francisco nonprofit stuffing absorbent booms with hair to soak up oil along the Gulf of Mexico.

Mother Jones reported the group has collected hair trimmings from 16,000 salons to make oil absorbing mats. Waste not want not—Thomas Azwell, an environmental science PhD candidate, uses worms to convert the used oil mats into fertilizer. "The results are worthwhile, common sensical and often enchanting," said the Matters of Trust website.

The idea married a useful fact of nature with a serious need for action and an item that was being sent to landfills. The magic mixer of these three elements is the charitable organization Matter of Trust.

Lisa Gautier and her husband Patrice Olivier Gautier started the non profit with the goal of getting great ideas into the hands of people who could use them, and matching non-profit groups with others who could extend their work. They provide groups who have a raw material with a market that can use it. It seems like common sense, but as Lisa Gautier says on the Matter of Trust web site, most charities are so busy doing their good work they can’t get an overview to see how to increase their productivity by working together.

To learn more, please see matteroftrust.org