We recycle with Style Recycling! Style Recycling is a Canadian salon waste diversion program based out of Okotoks, Alberta, now branching out to the Okanagan. Style Recycling collects, recycles and re-purposes salon waste that would otherwise end up in the landfill... helping facilitate salons in becoming more sustainable, and keeping as many things out of the landfill and waterways as possible!
The Style Recycling program begins with the delivery of four cardboard boxes, and a plastic-lined bin. Each cardboard box collects one of the four; hair, paper, plastic or metal. The plastic-lined bin collects leftover colour that would otherwise be rinsed down the drain and back into our waterways.. which is a terrible thing for the environment.
Once we fill a bag with hair, foil, colour, plastic or paper, we give our Style Recycling rep a call. Our bags are collected and our rep sorts things out from there.
You would be amazed at the amount of waste one salon can generate. Hair clippings, used colour tubes, used foils, leftover colour and aerosol cans and plastic colour bottles pile up in staggering amounts, and in the past... everything used to go straight into the garbage. Even regular recycling programs weren't cutting it.. because there's still hair, leftover colour, foils and all kinds of other stuff that you just can't blue-bin.
Style Recycling collect ALL these items (along with the usual recyclable materials like paper, plastics and glass) and ensures that these items stay out of the landfill.
Our Style Recycling rep, Nigel, personally sorts and separate all the different types of plastic, and then he takes it to a bulk recycler called Planet Earth Recycling, located in West Kelowna. Planet Earth uses some of the plastic locally, and the rest gets sent to Vancouver. A lot of the plastic is incinerated for energy purposes - unfortunately, there really aren't many alternatives to incineration for most plastics - this is why it is so important to reduce how much plastic we are consuming, and to also lobby the government to impose tougher restrictions so that manufacturers are forced to produce more eco-friendly packaging.
Cardboard, paper and even electronics are also dropped off at Planet Recycling. There, it gets sorted into tree categories: cardboard, newsprint, office paper. They are then shipped to Cascades Recovery in Kelowna, who markets the material to various recyclers in Canada, the United States, and overseas (the destination depends on where there are markets for these materials.)
Style Recycling uses ABC Recycling in Kelowna, who deal with scrap metal of all kinds, ferrous and non ferrous.
Arguably the greatest volume of salon waste comes in the form of used foils. We can attest to this – it piles up FAST, and takes up a massive amount of space.
Focused on keeping this foil out of the landfill, Style Recycling compresses it into bricks – five big bags of used foil compressed makes a brick that is roughly 2 cubic feet in size, weighing approximately 15 pounds! This foil is considered garbage foil – meaning it can’t be repurposed. This is true of any foil that is recycled. Instead, these bricks are incinerated for energy purposes.
While this is not ideal, once again.. there aren’t viable alternatives to incineration yet.
So what about those hot new biodegradable foil-alternatives?
Through research and discussion with industry experts, we learned that what we would really be doing is switching to bioplastic.
What's so bad about bioplastic?
*We apologize in advance for this depressing reality:
It turns out that bioplastic contains just as many toxic chemicals as petroleum-based plastic.
Then, there are the environmental concerns with how much water is being used to grow the plants to produce the bioplastic. Is it being ethically grown? Studies suggest that they are NOT. Bioplastic requires chemical processing for that organic material to actually be made into plastic. This manufacturing process actually contributes more to ozone depletion than traditional plastics, plus production requires extensive land use.
Bioplastic is derived from plant sugars, but in order to breakdown the material, special composting facilities need to exist, because the material is broken down by microbes and heat... so bioplastic won't decompose on its own in a timely fashion.
The final nail in the coffin for us was learning that bioplastic won't break down in the ocean - which means that it is actually contributing to the micro-plastic problem. As Nigel said, “How far down the rabbit hole do you want to go?”
Indeed. And this has been the realization we have had time and time again with so-called "eco friendly" products – it sounds so good.. and then we find out it's even worse that what we're replacing.
For now, believe it or not, it is still better for the environment for us to use traditional foil.
And that is SAD. We haven’t given up, though! We are always reading, always searching, and we’re certain that one day we’ll find a foil alternative that really IS better for the environment... and you can bet that we'll be leaving foil behind the second we find it!
The name of the game with excess colour is to keep it out of the wastewater treatment process. So Style Recycling sends the excess colour via Clean Harbours to Vancouver - Clean Harbours is a massive company specializing in keeping and processing toxic waste materials. The water and oil are separated from the chemicals. The wastewater is treated and is never sent back into waterways. Instead, settling ponds collect the waste as the water evaporates. The settled material is then collected and treated. This is important, because chemicals should not be going to our solid wastewater treatment plant. The oil and the waste are then incinerated for energy co-generation purposes.
This is the coolest part. The hair is sent to Garden Grow Mats in Okotoks, Alberta, and using a modified felting machine, garden grow mats are produced from the felted hair. 100% compostable and biodegradable, these mats are used as fertilizer! As it turns out, human hair contains more nutrients than cow manure and helps reduce weeding and watering. Because human hair is slow to break down, these mats are especially beneficial for slow-growing plants.
The mats are already available for sale in Alberta, and will soon be available online! We are so excited to watch this company grow.
Many people get excited when they hear the word “recycle”, but don’t look any further into the companies they are dealing with to see what happens to this waste once it leaves their home (or in our case, our salon!) and this is where things get dodgy. You think you're doing right, but out of sight out of mind is a slippery slope... and it is a mindset that requires little to no accountability - from us OR our recycling companies. Recycling is NOT recycling if our items end up in the landfill!
This is where other recycling companies have fallen short for us in the past. It all sounds great when you see favourable statistics and hear catchy language that aligns with your values... but then we would find out all that hadn't been disclosed and all the processes that didn't exist to facilitate what we believed was happening with our waste materials.
Chemicals were simply being put into lined landfills. Hair was sitting in warehouses with no viable method existing for it to be used for the purpose it was collected for. Nobody was able to tell us where these warehouses even were. The repurposed hair was only available via volunteers - both salons, who would agree to host the material, and then it would be up to the public to come collect them, with no word on what happened to the hair after it was used for its intended purpose.
In some instances, no information or disclosure about the recycling processes was available at all. We were super discouraged, to be honest.
So much of our household recycled material ends up in landfills… roughly 86% of Canada's recycling ends up in landfills, according to Oceana.ca. For salons, so much of our waste isn't even recyclable by traditional methods. Knowing this, it was really important to us that we find a company that DOES what they say they're doing - which is keeping these materials out of landfills, waterways, and dealing with it in as ethical and eco-friendly of a manner as possible.
As an industry, hair salons are largely bound by the materials that are currently available to us... and we need a better way of managing our unavoidable waste! So let's save it to say that we were not satisfied with our recycling company. But, we had yet to find anything better.
Enter this summer, when we met our rep, Nigel. Still stinging from having been shut down for almost 3 months over Covid, we were very skeptical, and we really grilled him when he came to see us - how is everything sorted? Where does it all go once its sorted? What happens to it then? What do these recycling processes REALLY look like? What we learned about Style Recycling both surprised and re-inspired us.
Currently providing our services for free until we can justify the expense, Nigel has been so much more than a company rep - he has been a real recycling resource!
We aren't interested in fancy imagery, brand recognition or trendy company taglines - we care about efficacy and transparency! This is why we are so excited to get to work with Style Recycling... and Nigel - who has diplomas in water and wastewater technology, as well as power engineering. Bonus... he was a stylist for over 20 years! Nigel has been a wonderful wealth of information for us regarding this core component of our business.
We are so pleased to now be able to actually explain how this recycling process is accomplished - it's something we have never been able to do before, because no other company has been so transparent, or given us real answers to our questions.
Our recycling program isn't perfect - no recycling program currently is. But after searching the last 5 years... we haven't found a solution that even touches what Style Recycling is now doing for us.