Expert Advice

6 Steps to Waste Less and Recycle the Rest

Victoria Wurdinger | July 10, 2011 | 6:20 PM

Green Light

Now that sustainability is a lifestyle, it’s easy to find affordable, eco-smart business ideas. Here, easy strategies any salon can use to save more, waste less and recycle the rest.

1. Extending Hair’s Lifecycle

If salons have one natural asset, it’s hair. And hair, discovered AnnSimone Mickelberry, co-owner of Sparkle Beauty Bar in Portland, Oregon, is ideal for mopping up oil spills.

Her salon separates all the clippings from cuts, puts them in a plastic-lined box and ships the box to Matter of Trust (, which was started by a barber.

“It’s a non-profit organization that presses the hair into mats, which can be used 30 to 100 times to soak up oil spills,” explains Mickelberry.

Processed or not, the hair sponges up oil better than fur. The mats are environmentally superior to petroleum-based spill products such as polypropylene pads, because they can be broken down organically using mushroom spores. Reconfigured as “Smart Grow,” the hair can also be used as a slow-release protein fertilizer for farmers, says Mickelberry.

Co-owner Keelie Duncan says Sparkle also uses earth-friendly products and marketing materials that are printed are on 100-percent recycled paper with soy inks.

“We have a calendar of monthly fundraisers for charities that relate to people, animals or the earth,” says Duncan. “We’re responsible for our world all year, not just on Earth Day.”


2. The Right Stuff

When you first do no harm, you don’t have to recycle as much later. That’s why Laura Kennedy, owner of Viridian Day Spa in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, uses glassware and china, not bottled water or Styrofoam plates.

Approximately 1.5 million barrels of oil—enough to run 100,000 cars for a year—are used to make plastic water bottles. Nearly 90-percent of water bottles are not recycled and wind up in landfills, where they will take thousands of years to decompose.

Kelly Chapin, co-owner of Natural Fusion salon in Frederick, Maryland, worked as a marine ecologist and environmental scientist for 15 years, and naturally applies her environmental values to running the business of the salon. Natural Fusion uses a low-flow washer, Energy Star appliances and compact fluorescent lighting (CFL)—where “beauty” lighting isn’t a must. CFL bulbs use less energy, last longer and contribute fewer pounds of carbon dioxide to global warming, when compared to 100-watt incandescent bulbs.

The salon’s primary hair care line comes in containers made of post-consumer recyclable materials, and Chapin and her hairdresser partner, Earl Pindar, ask clients to bring their shampoo and conditioner bottles back to be refilled.

“You need a realistic balance when going green; salons have to use chemicals like hair color, and fluorescent lights don’t make clients look good in the cutting area,” notes Chapin. 


3. Recycling Smarts

Perhaps because of the natural beauty that surrounds them, Portland-area businesses are taking a leadership role in caring for the environment, says Michelle Fach, owner of Synergy Artistic Salon in Wilsonville, Oregon.

At her salon, recycling starts with using suppliers that rely on post-consumer recyclable packaging materials in the first place. Then, the salon recycles as much plastic, paper and packaging as it can.

“We buy in bulk and recycle everything from foil to shampoo bottles,” says Fach. “We also encourage everyone in our mall to recycle.”

Strength in numbers counts: Some municipalities don’t have recycling programs for certain materials, such as aluminum foil. Join other businesses, and you can share the responsibility and the profits. 

“Salons use an unbelievable amount of foil, and we don’t have a recycling program for it in Cincinnati,” says Frederic Holzberger, founder and CEO of Aveda Fredric’s Institute, which is headquartered in that city. “We haul it from both our institutes and the corporate office’s recycling bins, then take it to a recycling center. Many pay for recyclable materials—cardboard in particular.”

What and when to recycle can get confusing. For instance, if you have to travel far to find a recycling center, was the energy used to make the trip offset by recycling or not?

Less packaging and waste upfront is always best. After that, check Recycle: The Essential Guide, edited by Duncan McCorquodale and Cigalle Hanaor, available at


4. Bag the Bag

Paper or plastic is a question most businesses can no longer ask. More than 100,000 birds and marine life die each year due to an encounter with plastic debris, and plastic lasts about 500 years. Governments in several countries have taken action against plastic bags; in Ireland, a special tax reduced the use of plastic bags by 90 percent.

But did you know paper’s not much better? It’s estimated the U.S. felled 14 million trees to produce the 10 billion paper grocery bags used in 1999.

 The reusable bag or eco-sack makes sense beyond reducing waste in the first place. Design the right one and it can act as a fashion statement and an advertisement for your business. You’ll find several sources by searching for reusable bags at

Or, get everyone off on a green foot at, where you can put your salon’s logo on green starter kits which include a reusable aluminum water bottle, reusable organic-cotton grocery bag, an energy-efficient CFL bulb and an organic cotton T-shirt.

New Jersey-based Greensender donates at least one percent of its sales to, a global movement your salon can join, too.


5. Big Ideas

When Kennedy created Viridian Day Spa, she bought a building and used sustainable practices to completely renovate it. The greatest pay-off, she says, was knowing she created a healthy environment for her guests and employees.

“I did a lot of research first and discovered there’s a lot that small business owners can do that’s environmentally sound,” says Kennedy. “Once the spa was completed, the fact it was environmentally friendly was a big draw in recruiting employees.”

Also of help was a local non-profit, the Sustainability Institute, which is now talking to Kennedy about holding seminars in her spa for other business owners who want to go green.

At Viridian, the countertops are recycled glass (which takes half the energy of new glass to create), while the floors are either renewable bamboo or renewable cork, which is also ergonomically friendly. The buildings’ existing insulation was replaced with Icynene spray foam, which boosts energy efficiency by 30 to 40 percent.

Guests wrap themselves in throws woven from Inego, a soft textile made from corn by-products. The paint on the walls is non-VOC (volatile organic compound).

And naturally, the product lines are all organic or natural-based, because therapists must have their hands in them all day. (The spa offers no hair services because Kennedy wanted a focused vision.)

Her advice to owners who are remodeling? Ask your staff for their eco ideas first.

“Look for local non-profits that help educate businesses about sustainability,” she adds.  “But don’t get hung up on researching businesses; anything you can do at home translates.”

Kennedy also advises against feeling pressured to over-spend or over-do just because being green is PC. Start small, and you’ll discover that little things go a long way.


6. Small Steps

When it comes to eco ideas big and small, Holzberger’s getting a rep as “Mr. Green.” His small investments with big impact: Using light sensors in bathrooms, electric-eye paper towel dispensers and flush sensors in toilets. These systems are not only more efficient—they’re more sanitary.

“Use refillable gift cards instead of paper gift certificates; they’re the way of the future and they don’t get lost in drawers,” says Holzberger. (At, gift cards are recycled into reusable material for your next card order.)

Energy-efficient lighting and light fixtures not only save money—they save on air conditioning costs because they result in lights that don’t run as hot. Programmable thermostats are a must, and some municipalities have programs that allow you to check the price of energy at specific times of day and dial down during peak use.

Trees around your building also help keep it cool in summer, says Holzberger; regularly checking and cleaning vents saves energy, too.

“Anytime you remodel or replace, seek out the best choices,” he adds. “Employees at DIY stores like Home Depot have a wealth of information on what’s green that’ll pay for itself. Also, fix things, don’t just throw them away. Batteries are very environmentally unfriendly; use rechargeable ones.”


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