When we think of human waste most of us are likely to conjure up the image of pee and poop. But us humans (and our pets) produce a few more different waste products! Urine is becoming an increasingly popular compost additive, but what about hair? High in protein, and renewable it seems like a good candidate to be reused in the garden. But is hair biodegradable and can it be composted? Here we take a closer look.
So, is hair biodegradable?
A biodegradable material is one that it can be broken down naturally by microbes. Hair will not persist indefinitely. If it ended up in landfill, although not ideal, it would break down. Although not the quickest body component to biodegrade, the process can be quicker if the conditions are optimal.
Can you compost human hair?
Composting is, arguably, the best way to dispose of waste. It not only prevents organic waste products (anything from food waste to a cotton shirt) going to landfill, it also provides a nutrient-rich compost to use in your garden. It’s a win-win!
We have established that hair is biodegradable so it must be compostable, right? Unfortunately, it does not work like that. Materials must be biodegradable to be composted. But not all biodegradable materials can be composted! The breakdown of all biodegradable material does not contribute to a nutrient-rich compost.
Hair is both biodegradable and compostable – it is a great ingredient to add to your pile. Dog and cat hair can be composted too, in exactly the same way. Although unless you own a dog grooming service or hair salon, it is unlikely to amount to much! But every little helps, so throw it in there.
Hair makes up the ‘green’ nitrogen-rich component of the pile. Other green ingredients include food scraps and coffee grounds. ‘Brown’ ingredients refer to carbon-rich materials such as dried leaves and twigs. Try to stick as closely as possible to the suggested green-to-brown ratio. With composting, it is very much trial-and-error. But sticking to the basic principles will create optimal conditions for the microbes to do their thing. If you are new to composting, you can find out some of the basics here.
Can hair be added to a worm bin?
Vermicomposting is a less common type of composting which involves worms digesting your waste. It might seem a bit gross, but it works wonderfully well and is quicker than standard composting.
Composting worms will happily munch on any hair you add to the pile. In fact, it is a cut above the rest (pardon the pun) – they seem to love it! They will generally eat any organic material, but hair is especially great for a worm bin as it is a size they can easily manage. Just make sure it is clean – no added chemicals from hair products. Poisoned worms don’t make for a happy or productive worm bin…
Things to consider when composting hair…
There are some practicalities to consider when composting hair. As with other composting, the process will be quicker if you cut the material into smaller pieces. Although it will still break down if you skip this step, it basically just gives it a jumpstart. Smaller pieces give the microbes a much larger area to work their magic on. Gotta keep them happy, after all!
Since hair is so lightweight, it might be a good idea to bury it in the pile. As well as stopping it getting swept away by the wind, it will also get it integrated into the pile straight away. The process can start the moment it get mixed in.
Products such as hair dyes and sprays can introduce toxic chemicals into your compost pile. Not really worth it for the minimal amount of compost that some hair trimmings will produce. Thankfully, this will not be a problem with pet hair – although I am told hair spray is commonly used on the dog show circuit! Give that a miss too.
The bottom line
Here at TOTP, we are all about diverting waste from landfill. Although hair is not the most problematic material in landfill, why not recycle it into something useful for your garden? By following the basics outlined here, hair can contribute to the production of nutrient-dense compost.