Petco Collects Pet Hair to Help Fight Oil Spill

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Petco is launching an assault on BP's (BP) Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Its weapon of choice: fur. On Friday, the pet store chain said it will work collect animal hair from its grooming boutiques for use in soaking up the oil. Almost 1,000 Petco grooming centers are participating, and the company hopes to collect a ton of hair per day.

The fur is going directly to Alabama, where volunteers with San Francisco-based charity Matter of Trust, will make snakelike hair "booms" by stuffing the discarded locks into nylons and mesh containers. The homemade water filters will then be deployed in the Gulf, where the destroyed Deepwater Horizon oil rig is spewing an estimated 200,000 gallons of oil per day.

The idea of using hair to soak up oil came from Alabama hair stylist Phil McCory. In 1989, while watching a story on the Exxon Valdez spill, McCory noticed the difficulty that volunteers were having with cleaning oil out of the hair of otters. Reasoning that human hair would be as good as otter hair at trapping oil, he filled a few nylons with discarded locks from his salon. In an experiment in his son's wading pool, he discovered that his homemade hair bags were extremely successful at absorbing used motor oil.

McCory went on to invent OttiMat, a hair-filled mat that could be easily deployed on oil spills. McCory notes that his mats not only clean up oil, but also reduce landfill waste: "Millions of pounds of human hair is cut every day and tossed into landfills or dumped into oceans... Using it for bio-remediation of oil spills would put it to work while simultaneously reducing the amount of waste in our landfills - a real win-win situation."

OttiMats are made in China, but McCory has given Matter of Trust permission to try making the mats in the U.S. with donated hair. In the meantime, the charity is working to direct shipments of hair to the places where they are most desperately needed. Approximately 370,000 salons are involved in the project, and are shipping an estimated 450,000 pounds of hair to Matter of Trust.

"With customers coming into our grooming salons every day throughout the country, we have a tremendous amount of material to contribute," said Petco CEO Jim Myers. "Everyone in the company, especially our grooming team, is excited to provide this unique assistance, and our customers are asking about it, too."

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