Where does hair waste generated in barber shops in Kerala go?
Around 827 tons of hair waste is generated from 23,785 barbour shops and 12,303 beauty parlours across Kerala, according to the findings of focus group interviews led by Dr PV Mohanan, Master Faculty to the state government’s Suchitwa Mission. The focus group sessions conducted in the pre-pandemic period of 2020 which revealed this data also shed light on how hair waste gets dispensed from barber shops and beauty parlours.
According to the respondents in the focus group interviews, they mostly clear out hair waste generated biweekly or monthly. There are different methods in which they get rid of it. In barber shops or beauty parlours, where hair waste is generated in limited quantities, they wrap it in newspapers and take it to their own personal premises. They dig a pit in the soil and bury it. Some others on a daily basis wrap it in newspapers and dispose it in ditches or rivers. Some respondents say they burn it at night. Notably, all these aforementioned methods are predominantly adopted by barber shops in rural areas.
Meanwhile, in semi-urban and urban areas the disposition of hair waste is a bit difficult. In some places municipalities are collecting hair waste separately and are providing it for the land filling process. But most of them are not proactive in hair waste collection due to absence of facilities for scientific processing. While it is learnt that a section of individuals are also involved in dumping hair waste along with domestic garbage. Likewise, some crematoriums in the state were involved in an unsafe practice of burning hair waste.
When the quantity of hair waste generated is high, the barbers and beauticians have to depend on intermediaries. They can be a private agency, a company, a rag picker, scrap collector or any other person who will collect the hair waste. In almost all cases the beauticians and barbers have to pay them for taking the waste. Some charge based on quantity, while some others charge monthly standard rate. The rate varies. It is learnt that the individuals involved charge from Rs 50 to Rs 100 in a month. While, agencies and companies charge from Rs 200 to Rs 350. There are few entities who pay money to barbers and beauticians.
But there are many allegations on the intermediaries. Reports say those collecting hair waste are not disposing it in a proper manner. There are cases in which hair waste was spotted on unmanned areas, road sides, forests etc. Some are involved in using the hair waste as a medium to contraband banned products or items to avoid supervision from authorities. Similarly, in an enquiry based on Suchitwa Mission’s intervention, it was found that a section of agencies which claim that they are taking hair waste to Chennai and Hyderabad for scientific processing, were not actually doing it.
However, those relying on companies involved in the collection of hair waste say their operations are systematic. They provide bags to put the hair waste and blades separately. Some even have online platforms and tracking mechanisms. Also they only charge based on the number of chairs and number of persons involved in the hair cutting.
What do representatives from the sector say about the hair waste issue?
According to Kerala State Barber-Beautician’s Association (KSBA)'s president ES Shaji, though the association has not forwarded a request with the government to intervene to address hair waste disposal issue at state level, the issue has been discussed. ”We have not forwarded a request for the government to intervene for hair waste collection. It will not be practical it seems. Some municipalities and panchayats used to collect it. But they stopped after some time. Presently association through district level committee signs agreement with private companies and agencies. They are promptly collecting it in a systematic manner. The rate charged is also affordable for most. But it is true that old barbers and those with less business may find it difficult to arrange the money. However, we have no other option. More than cost, for us there are not many alternatives to dispose of hair waste, " he said.
He added that even when some other private individuals who are not part of the association dump hair waste in any public place, the criticism will be against KSBA. "We have strictly communicated to the association members to not rely on unscientific practices of disposing of hair waste" he made KSBA's stance clear.
Meanwhile, Kerala Beautician Association's chief Aryanad Mohanan said that the hair waste collection process should be incentivised to restrict malpractices. "The hair waste collection now requires barbers and beauticians to pay for it. While intermediaries make money out of it. In olden days, some parties from Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu used to collect hair waste and provide the beauticians and barbers with new blades and beauty products as a compensation. They never used to charge money, " he pointed out.
He also made an allegation that some are framing hair waste as a bad thing, and using that fear tactic they get it for free and reap profit out of it. "There is high demand for hair waste. But they will project it as an issue so that people will pay them to collect it. They then use hair waste as a raw material for their products and make profit out of it" he said.
Whether hair waste causes pollution?
According to Kerala State Pollution Control Board officials, the board has not conducted any specific studies examining whether hair waste causes pollution in the state. However, they pointed out that residential associations and other civil society groups have raised issues over hair waste dumping. The officials maintain that burning of hair waste produces toxic emissions such as ammonia that contribute to pollution.
Better way of handling hair waste
Due to the presence of keratin protein, hair waste will take more time to decompose in soil. Composting is not an apt method. Nor water-based treatment. Experts say hydrolysis (acid based treatment) is the best way to process hair waste. After hydrolysis, a mixture of amino acids will be formed. On neutralization with alkali, the mixture can be used as a fertilizer for agriculture. Interestingly, Kerala Agricultural University has invented a technology for converting hair waste to fertilizer. Reportedly, the lone company in India which is involved in mass production of amino acid fertilizer from hair waste is in Pune.
Meanwhile, hair waste processing is a niche. But it is a big industry when revenue generation is considered. The hair waste can be used to make wigs, patches, brush, bio-filters, briquettes etc. But, the problem with the hair waste, especially from barber shops, is that the length of the hair follicle will be short, thus limiting its fitness for commercial use. In beauty parlours too segregating long hair follicle from short hair follicle is difficult. Some civic and charity based organizations are involved in collection of long hair follicle bunch for making wigs for people suffering from permanent or temporary hair loss due to ailments.
Haritha Keralam Mission's view on hair waste management
Kerala government’s Haritha Keralam Mission (HKM) spearheading waste management in the state views hair waste management as an important concern. The Mission is planning to adopt ‘Haritha Protocol’ which holistically focuses on hygiene measures in barber shops and beauty parlours. The unions and associations of beauticians and barbers have taken a welcome stand on it. According to them, all barber shops and beauty parlours have to give the waste to an agency which establishes a modern facility for processing the waste hair, that is hydrolysis. They will provide bags to put the hair waste and blades separately. A charge would be levied as collection charges. The money collected will be used to meet logistics costs as barber shops and parlours are scattered in different locations across the state. There will be a godown in each district for keeping the hair waste without damaging it. From there hair waste will be taken to the processing plant as and when it is required. Meanwhile, the vehicle collecting the waste will have stickers of HKM and of the processing plant.
Virad Rendering Technologies in Kannur has approached the mission with a proposal. Their demand is that hair waste should be freely available for them. Per day at least 600 kilograms of hair waste should be available for the plant to be practically operational. As the plant can accommodate processing of 3 ton hair waste in a day, hair waste from other states too can be sourced. The technology of Virad for hydrolysis has been reviewed by authorities concerned. It is learnt that MoU has been signed and further procedures are under progress.