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Meet the Canadian company that has diverted 10 million lbs of salon waste from landfills

By Lisa Felepchuk

Published March 1, 2024 • 6 Min Read

Green Circle Salons is shaping the future of the beauty industry. 

The salon experience is relatively standard. You secure a black cape around your neck, sit down in a chair that can rotate 360 degrees, and, as you’re putting your feet up on a chrome foot rest, you explain the look you’re trying to achieve. Your top concern over the next hour or three is how the cut or colour will turn out. 

The experience Shane Price had at a Toronto salon 15 years ago began similarly. It was his first time in a true salon, in fact. Price put on the cape, sat in the chair and waited for the cut, but as he scanned the bustling salon dotted with other patrons at various stages of their service, he stopped paying attention to what was happening on his own head, and instead began to wonder where the freshly snipped strands that were covering the floor like a fresh dusting of snow were destined for.

“In that moment, I remember being blown away by all the waste that was going on the floor and being swept into a garbage bag,” says Price, noting not only the hair clippings, but the aluminum foils, coloiur tubes, and even the paper and magazines.

It didn’t make sense, he remembers thinking, especially in a major city like Toronto, which is considered a thought-leader in municipal recycling. It would be months of research, development and strategizing the funding mechanism before Green Circle Salons would come to fruition. And the more Price dug in, the more he realized it wasn’t just a Toronto problem, but an industry one.

That was in 2009. Today, nearly 15 years later, Green Circle Salons is a B Corp certified company that focuses on making beauty truly beautiful by helping salons (as well as spas and barber shops) reconsider how they manage waste. Green Circle Salons now has more than 3,600 member salons using its program, as well as 70 beauty schools and academies, 19 manufacturers and 37 distributors.

“We make an effort as a community of green-minded salons to keep most, if not all, of the waste generated at the salon level out of the landfill. It’s a simple model where everyone is involved, and everyone wins”. says Price.

Salons across Canada and the United States send 877 pounds of waste, roughly the weight of a horse, to landfill every minute. That works out to about half a million pounds a day. It’s a staggering amount of waste, which is why Green Circle Salons’ service is so crucial.

Salon members are asked to collect all of their beauty waste, from hair clippings and used foils to color tubes and excess hair colour, as well as PPE, paper and plastic. Then, waste is shipped to a Green Circle Salons facility, where it is further separated and aggregated and then shipped to one of Green Circle’s recycling partners.

Each type of waste has its own recycling protocol. Hair clippings, for example, are either composted, turned into bio-composite plastics to make new items, like recycling bins, or become products that support humanitarian efforts, like the oil-spill clean-up that occured in 2010 when Green Circle Salons sent over 1,000 lbs of hair to the Gulf of Mexico to help in the clean-up of the BP oil spill. Excess hair dye, meanwhile, can be recycled into fuels and used aluminum foils melted down into aluminum sheets that go on to be used in a variety of products including cars and bicycles.

The onus isn’t just on partner salons, spas and barbershops. Green Circle Salons is also committed to reducing its own operational carbon emissions. In 2021, using the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, the company measured its impact through a carbon footprint analysis, which has since served as a baseline. Numerous actions have been taken, like offsetting the annual energy consumption of all U.S. facilities, and using UPS’ carbon neutral program for shipping beauty waste from salons to its facilities, and investing in renewable energy sources at Canadian locations.

Green Circle Salons also has a Zero Waste to Landfill certification from The Carbon Trust, a U.K.-based third-party that supports businesses, financial institutions and governments working towards a net zero future through various initiatives, including auditing organizational chains of custody.

“We invited The Carbon Trust into our business eco-system, top to bottom, to understand who we are, who our suppliers are, and who their suppliers are,” says Price. “As far as I know, there are no other known Zero Waste to Landfill Certified recycling companies in North America. Since inception in 2009, it’s been mission critical for us to offer the most authentic and genuinely sustainable solution to the industry. And through the process, we’ve demonstrated that salons  actually can recycle close to one hundred percent of the waste in this industry.”

Changing the narrative around salon waste

When he was first finding his footing in the beauty and waste management worlds, Price says this type of recycling in salons was unheard of. The average patron wasn’t actively seeking out a salon that considered its environmental impact. Today, however, many consumers are more in tune with how their spending habits influence the world around them, and therefor putting their money where their values are.

“For the salons that have joined the program, they tell us that they wish they’d joined 10 years ago,” says Price. “It makes sense, it generates revenue, their customers love it and it’s great for the planet.

If that’s the case, why doesn’t Green Circle Salons have 36,000 members in its program, rather than 3,600? Price pegs this to time and fear. Convincing every single salon from Uculeut to Yarmouth to join the Green Circle Salons program requires a ton for work and effort. And, many salons worry that their clients won’t support them or the additional costs associated with implementing a modern recycling program. In reality, the opposite is true. Once salon clients are aware that they can keep the planet beautiful while looking beautiful, they become even more loyal to their salon.

Still, the future for a network of Waste Warriors like this is bright. Green Circle Salons just marked a milestone 10 million pounds of salon waste diverted from the landfill. It’s moments like this that make the hard work worth it.

“We’re called consumers, but we’re also global citizens—not just data points,” says Price. “As a citizen, there’s such an opportunity for us to be proactive in shaping the world that we want for ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren, so ultimately, what the manufacturers and brands do is a result of what citizens ask them to do. And so the more we ask of our brands, the more they’ll do. It’s pretty simple, but we have to ask and we have to do it collectively.”

This article is intended as general information only and is not to be relied upon as constituting legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. Information presented is believed to be factual and up-to-date but we do not guarantee its accuracy and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the authors as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or any of its affiliates.

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