Human Material Loop researches the concept of humans as a sustainable material of the future. It aims to integrate waste human hair into a closed-loop recycling system, introducing new material to the textile industry. In Europe 72 million kg of human hair waste ends up in landfills. Can we integrate human hair into our textile production? Can we lower the demand for cotton and exchange synthetic fibers for natural ones? What impact can we create if we integrate a local, biodegradable fiber into our textile industry?
With the increase of global energy crisis and ecology risk, the unique advantages of biological fibers such as human hair are not yet implemented in our product cycles. Human hair and its abundance quantity, non-toxic, non-irritation of the skin, high tensile strength, lightweight, thermal insulator, elastic recovery, and oil-absorbing capability as a material shows a great potential integrating it to our production. In Europe 72 million kg of human hair, waste ends up in landfills or in the drainage system yearly. Can we integrate human hair into our textile production? Can we lower the demand for cotton and exchange synthetic fibers for natural ones? What impact can we create if we integrate a local, biodegradable fiber into our textile industry?
Would you buy products made out of human hair?
Clothing has clearly become disposable. As a result, we generate more and more textile waste. A family in the western world throws away an average of 30 kg of clothing each year. Only 15% is recycled or donated, and the rest goes directly to the landfill or is incinerated. Synthetic fibers, such as polyester, are plastic fibers, therefore non-biodegradable and can take up to 200 years to decompose. Synthetic fibers are used in 72% of our clothing. Every time we wash a synthetic garment, about 700.000 individual microfibers are released into the water, making their way into our oceans. Wearing synthetic fibers is releasing plastic microfibers to the air. One person could release almost 300 million polyester microfibres per year to the environment by washing their clothes, and more than 900 million to the air by simply wearing the garments.
Which fabric do you find the most appealing?
Ethical clothing comes in all shapes and sizes. From sourcing fabrics to sewing the last stitch, manufacturers are responsible for the product before it even hits the store. Manufacturing is often where the majority of ethical concerns arise. Unpaid and underpaid labour, poor manufacturing conditions, and little to no environmental plan for waste products are some of the ethical issues that can have vast repercussions. There are a number of initiatives to make fashion, as a whole, more sustainable: World Fair Trade Organization – WTFO, Bluesign, Oeko-Tex , Global Organic Textile Standard – GOTS, Ethical Trading Initiative – ETI. Most clothing companies should have a section on their website about “Corporate Responsibility”, “Modern Slavery Acknowledgement”, or “Ethical Practices”. If a company doesn’t have any, it’s more likely they aren’t using ethical manufacturers.
What is the most important aspect when you buy a product?
As the global demand for textiles increases, so to do the potential environmental impacts that stem from their production, use and disposal. Freshwater ecosystems are particularly at risk: rivers often act as the primary recipients of waste generated during the production of textiles and are subject to pollutants released during the broader lifecycle of a textile product. Woolen textiles pose the most risk during the Production Phase, while PET textiles pose the most risk during the Use and Disposal Phases. Both ‘natural’ and synthetic textiles present substantial challenges for freshwater environments, and bespoke solutions are needed in areas of the world where the global division of labor and less stringent environmental regulations have concentrated textile production; but also in regions where high textile consumption combines with unsustainable disposal behaviors.
What is the most common material of the products you purchase?
The drop in garment prices over the last 20 years has allowed us to buy more and more clothes. We now have 5 times more clothes than our grandparents had. It felt great until we found out what was hiding behind this trend. In reality, this continuous accumulation of cheap garments is only possible because of a constant reduction of production costs. This, in turn, has serious consequences on our health, our planet, and garment workers’ lives. The fashion industry is the second-largest polluter in the world just after the oil industry. And the environmental damage is increasing as the industry grows. However, there are solutions and alternatives to mitigate these problems. The first step lies in building awareness and willingness to change.
Which production process do you find acceptable?
In Europe, 72 million kg of human hair waste is generated. Waste hair ends up in landfills, causing the expulsion of toxic gases into the environment. Waste hair accumulates in large amounts in the solid waste streams, choking the drainage systems. It takes several years for human hair before decomposing. While we think of human hair only existing on top of our heads, beauty salons generate huge amounts of waste, where waste management of cities only focuses on collecting the waste. At least a few times a year everybody visits a hair salon, gets a fresh look, and leaves the cut-off hair for the salon to dispose of. Human Material Hair Loop provides a system where the waste hair can be recycled. Wouldn’t it be a good feeling knowing that you donated your waste for a more sustainable future? Everybody should contribute to a more sustainable future, Human Material Loops make it possible.
What reason would most likely stop you from wearing an article of clothing made out of hair?
At every stage of production, from breeding sheep to mothproofing garments, the wool industry threatens the land, air, and water. The production of sheep’s wool is more polluting – for cradle-to-gate environmental impact per kilogram of material – than that of acrylic, polyester, spandex, and rayon fibers. As with other forms of animal agriculture, raising sheep for wool gobbles up precious resources. The land is cleared and trees are cut down to make room for grazing, leading to increased soil salinity and erosion and a decrease in biodiversity. Sheep, like cows, release enormous amounts of methane gas into the atmosphere. Manure generated by farmed animals – including in countries like Australia and New Zealand, where vast flocks of sheep have been expanded to meet the world’s demand for wool –has significantly contributed to the increase in atmospheric greenhouse gases over the last 250 years. On top of the horrendous environmental impact of wool, sheep suffer terribly in the industry. On top of the horrendous environmental impact of wool, sheep suffer terribly in the industry. PETA has released video exposés recorded at nearly 100 facilities on four continents revealing that sheep are mutilated, abused, and skinned alive. Industry initiatives like the “Responsible Wool Standard” haven’t reduced or stopped the egregious suffering of sheep the world over. Consumers who are worried about the carbon footprint and sustainability of synthetic materials have a wide variety of eco-friendly options to choose from.
When you wear a wool sweater what comes to your mind?
Environmental science is all about finding ways to live more sustainably, which means using resources today in a way that maintains their supplies for the future. Environmental sustainability doesn’t mean living without luxuries but rather being aware of your resource consumption and reducing unnecessary waste.
Do you want to contribute to a more sustainable future?
A transformation to sustainability calls for radical and systemic societal shifts. Based on a perspective of conflict as productive, and a “conflict transformation” approach that can address the root issues of ecological conflicts and promote the emergence of alternatives. In economic growth-oriented economies, increasing ecological mal-distribution remains even more obscured than economic inequality, as well-being continues to be measured primarily in monetary terms with the use of instruments such as GDP. Such inequalities manifest through struggles for ecological redistribution, which we may otherwise term struggles for environmental justice and ecological conflicts. Dimensions of environmental justice include the distribution of burdens of pollution and access to environmental resources, the right to participate in decision-making, and the recognition of alternate worldviews and understandings of development. In the act of claiming redistributions, these conflicts are often part of, or lead to larger gender, class, caste, and ethnic struggles, and help to move the economy into a more sustainable direction.
Do you think a change must happen in order to have a liveable Earth for the future generations?
Human Material Loop offers a globally applicable system to change how the textile industry operates today. Human Material Loops offers a solution to lower the waste of cities, an opportunity for each individual to contribute to a more sustainable future. Human Material Loop offers a material that is biodegradable, 100% recycled, cruelty-free and high in tensile strength. Integrating waste human hair into our textile production can lower the usage of cotton and its environmental consequences. It can lower the usage of synthetic fiber and offer a strong material for various industries. Most of all Human Material Loop changes the perspective of ourselves and makes it possible to contribute to a more sustainable future. It demonstrates the strength of diversity and unity. The more diverse the collected hair waste the stronger the weaves become. We are living on this planet together, together we are stronger. Collaboration is the future, sharing knowledge is the future. We can benefit from our beauty obsessions, hair salons can be the hubs to recycle and create materials. Chemical-free, human and sustainable – Human Material Loop.
Are you aware of the capabilities of human hair as a material?
The apparel industry accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions. The global fashion industry is generating a lot of greenhouse gases due to the energy used during its production, manufacturing, and transportation of the million garments purchased each year. The soil is a fundamental element of our ecosystem. We need healthy soil for food production but also to absorb CO2. The massive, global degradation of soil is one of the main environmental issues our planet is currently facing. It presents a major threat to global food security and also contributes to global warming. The fashion industry plays a major part in degrading soil in different ways: overgrazing of pastures through cashmere goats and sheep raised for their wool; degradation of the soil due to massive use of chemicals to grow cotton; deforestation caused by wood-based fibers like rayon. In most of the countries in which garments are produced, untreated toxic wastewaters from textiles factories are dumped directly into the rivers. Wastewater contains toxic substances such as lead, mercury, and arsenic, among others. These are extremely harmful to aquatic life and the health of millions of people living by those river banks. The contamination also reaches the sea and eventually spreads around the globe. Another major source of water contamination is the use of fertilizers for cotton production, which heavily pollutes runoff waters and evaporation waters. We have known this for decades: most of our clothes are made in countries in which workers’ rights are limited or non-existent. We know that if working conditions improve in one country, companies will just move to another. We believe that we cannot expect much from the corporate world or from governments if consumers do not push for a change.
What do you think is the most essential aspect to overcome in our production system?
There is that old saying, usually attributed to Yves Saint Laurent: “Fashion fades, style is eternal.” Literally speaking, that actually may no longer be true, especially when it comes to fast fashion. Fast-fashion brands may not design their clothing to last, but as artifacts of a particularly consumptive era, they might become an important part of the fossil record. More than 60 percent of fabric fibers are now synthetics, derived from fossil fuels, so if and when our clothing ends up in a landfill, it will not decay. As wearers, we can also make a difference by choosing and looking after our clothes more carefully, wearing them longer, having smaller wardrobes, recycling the clothes we no longer want and thinking about alternatives to buying such as swapping or renting outfits.
What do you know about the textile industry?
If your hair waste would be recycled which industries would you prefer to integrate to their product cycles?
Human hair is a well-known material, but once it is cut off from our heads nobody sees it as a material. Human hair is a valuable material, however, it goes to waste in large amounts all over the world. Cities as farms, waste as material, the way to change the textile industry are on our heads. Can we care as much about our planet as with our beauty? The world’s population is rapidly rising, waste management and the change to local materials and production is a must for a sustainable future. Human hair has many valuable properties; – high tensile strength, abundance quantity, non-toxic, non-irritation of the skin, lightweight, thermal insulator, elastic recovery, and oil-absorbing capability. Introducing human hair as raw material and its diverse range of applications can make a change in our environment.
This textile piece is made out of human hair. What do you think of it?
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