Each year, around two million kilograms of waste – in the form of foils, old products, hair and chemicals – are dumped by hair salons in Australia. There is little information available on the scale of the problem within New Zealand and globally, a frightening thought given the resources an average hair salon consumes each day. “There really are no numbers out there; the statistics come from all the research we’ve done ourselves. If the numbers aren’t there you have to go and get them,” says Ewelina Soroko, the co-founder of Refoil and Sustainable Salons Australia.
Although the figures are scarce, an attempt to do the maths to get an idea of the global scale of the problem throws up alarming numbers: there are more than 300,000 hair salons throughout the US and 40,000 in the United Kingdom alone. “When you start thinking about all the salons in America and Europe, the problem is a hundred times worse than it is in Australia and New Zealand, and there’s no good infrastructure in place to deal with the waste,” Soroko says. “Chemicals that don’t degrade are leeching into our waterways. Certain plastics and aluminium don’t degrade and stay in the soil for centuries. The problem with plastics is that particles remain in the soil and end up in the ocean and then we eat the fish. Eventually these particles can end up in our bodies. It’s not only an ecological problem, it becomes a health problem, too,” she explains.
Recycling might seem like the simple solution to a growing dilemma – the world’s ballooning population is unlikely to give up regular salon visits in the near future. But as Soroko explains, most standard mixed recycling programmes don’t cater for businesses. “It’s a one-size-fits-all approach, but different industries have different requirements.” Thankfully, placing the growing mountain of salon waste in the too-hard basket isn’t the approach many in the business of hair have decided to take. “As an industry we have a responsibility to do something about it,” Soroko says.
It’s a sentiment she shares not only with a burgeoning number of green-minded salons and haircare creators but also with their clients. “People are not only more aware of their wellbeing, they’re more aware of the impact their everyday life has on the world. People are going to the salon, getting their hair coloured and asking where those foils are going,” says Soroko. Matt Benns, Stephen Marr’s creative director, believes clients who walk through his salon doors are more educated than ever before. “They’re intelligent, sophisticated and proactive,” he says. “They research everything and know so much more about what is in a product, where it’s made and who made it. Information is so much more accessible these days.”
Standard recycling programmes might not address the needs of hair salons, but bespoke services – such as Soroko’s second brainchild, Sustainable Salons Australia – are filling a much-needed gap in recycling infrastructure. Refoil, a provider of professional- grade foils made from pure, contaminant-free, recycled aluminium, was Soroko and her partner Paul Frasca’s first sustainable beauty project. Soroko met Frasca, a hairdresser by trade, in Amsterdam when she was working in sustainable fashion for various NGOs. “I guess my passion for sustainability influenced Paul,” she laughs.
It wasn’t long before Frasca started noticing how much waste was being created by salons. According to Soroko, there’s always been a big misconception that salon waste can’t be recycled; she believes it’s the main reason that recyclable waste, such as foils and from colour tubes, is sent to the landfills unnecessarily. “A lot of materials that end up at the tip are recyclable – we just need to put the right systems and infrastructure in place to deal with the waste,” says Soroko. The Sustainable Salons Australia system ￼￼takes the toil out of recyling for its clients. “They’re provided with metal, plastic, paper, hair and chemical bins. Once they’re full, our drivers pick them up like any other recycling service,” Soroko explains. The service is not yet available in New Zealand, but it may only be a matter of time: Soroko and Frasca have been amazed by the phenomenal support the programme has received in Australia.
BEYOND THE BASICS
The often perplexing nature of recycling isn’t stopping a number of ethically minded salons in New Zealand taking matters into their own hands. Salons such Auckland’s Ryder and Wellington’s The Powder Room not only purchase Refoil’s recycled aluminium, they go to great lengths to ensure waste is disposed of in an environmentally friendly manner, sorting all waste appropriately and reusing where they can. Recycling is only part of the picture for the salons dedicated to creating a sustainable future. Using iPads to reduce paper usage, collecting rainwater to water plants and encouraging salons to offer clients a discount if they leave their car at home and arrive on foot, bike or public transport are just a few of the many initiatives that sustainable Italian haircare brand Davines has included on its Eco Salon Checklist, which is provided as a guide for its salons to live by. According to Greg Murrell, it services about 25,000 salons worldwide. Although Davines salons, including Ryder and The Powder Room, are dedicated to ticking off the checklist, sustainable thinking is now second nature for them.
Greg Murrell, Ryder’s founder and the New Zealand ambassador for Davines, mentions a light bulb moment they had at Ryder recently. “We’re looking for new ways to be more sustainable all the time, and some Davines products come wrapped in newsprint,” he says. Instead of throwing the paper into their recycling bins, the team asked the local kindergarten if they wanted it for art projects. It might not seem like a considerable change, but it’s hard to argue with Murrell when he says reusing is always better than recycling. At The Powder Room, little things go a long way to making a difference. Old magazines are donated to local hospitals, all bills are received electronically and leftover product containers become homes for plants.
For those who are playing a key role in creating a sustainable future for generations to come, the way forward is often outside the salon doors. Davines fund a number of global projects that give back to the wider community. Murrell, who spent last October in Italy with the innovative company, says a South African wig exchange programme for kids with cancer, South American hairdressers donating their time to train unemployed solo mums and a Milanese hairdresser transforming a derelict public space into green areas are just some of the projects that Davines supports.
Salons at home are making a difference within their community, too. It’s difficult to underestimate the power of good hair, so each month Lisa Ussher and her team at The Powder Room give a woman from their local Women’s Refuge a haircut. “For us it’s really about training our staff in kindness, too,” Ussher says.
With so many positive changes happening, the future looks bright. Yet industry insiders believe there are still hurdles to overcome. Soroko says the biggest challenge is the sceptics. “The other day I heard someone saying that recycling is pointless because it doesn’t actually get recycled. It’s these kinds of stories that make people sceptical about what you’re trying to do.” She believes the only way around it is to be completely transparent with your business. “We always invite people to our warehouse to see how everything is done.”
For Shane Young, the founder of skin and haircare company Essano, greenwashing is a monumental issue that sustainable brands face daily. “People are taking standard formulas, adding a small amount of something organic, then labelling their products as natural and organic.” It’s a key reason Young has Essano validated by ECOCERT, the world’s first certification body to develop standards for natural and organic cosmetics. “At the moment, it’s all about logos and understanding what those logos actually mean.” For Essano and Young their ECOCERT logo involves six-monthly visits from France for the third party to undertake a detailed process of auditing their entire supply chain. “We have agreements with them on our sustainability practices and recycling, our energy sources and use, our carbon and water management, our operational efficiency and waste management – they really go through it all.”
Obstacles aside, Soroko, Young, Murrell and Ussher are all optimistic about the future. Watching as social media becomes a tool of empowerment for consumers excites Young. “You can go back and challenge brand owners and businesses and make them more accountable for their actions.”
Murrell believes the industry and consumers are realising that we can have it all. “We’re starting to grasp the fact that luxury and sustainability can coincide, you don’t have to pick one or the other,” he says. Soroko and her partner have grand ambitions – “Our mission is to make salon-waste history” – and she’s positive about the industry as a whole. “I’m very hopeful,” says Soroko. People are very aware that, “Yes, it’s just me, but I can make a difference in my business and my life.”