From education to employment

Hairdressing Students Go Green

group of students

Hairdressing students at Northern Regional College(@NRCCollege) who came up with a novel way to recycle hair cuttings were among the winners at the 2024 Northern Ireland Project Based Learning (PBL) finals.

With an aim of promoting the development of creative thinking and problem-solving skills among students, the PBL competition was open to all full-time and part-time students at FE Colleges in Northern Ireland.

All six FE colleges in Northern Ireland hosted preliminary qualifying rounds and the highest scoring entry in each of the four categories – Entrepreneurial, Sustainability, Innovation and Social Impact – secured a spot in the final.

The Level 2 hairdressing students at the College’s Magherafelt campus, aka ‘Green Hair’, who impressed judges with their innovative proposals to recycle hair cuttings from the College’s training salon, won the Sustainability category.

Green Hair spokesperson, Erin Kennedy from Stewartstown explained how their project developed:

“Hair is rich in natural nutrients but cut hair in salons is usually just swept up and binned. Since only a minimal amount of long hair is ever recycled and used to make wigs, we decided to investigate how hair cuttings could be used to create an environmentally friendly sustainable product.”

Erin continued:

“In our theory class, we were discussing the many benefits of hair and our lecturer, Victoria Smyth, mentioned how human hair could be used to keep foxes away from chickens.

“With all four members of Green Hair coming from a farming background, they decided to investigate this further. To their delight, they discovered that not only did human hair keep foxes away, but the hens seemed happier!

“We approached a local farmer, George Newell and he agreed to us putting hair that we had gathered in the salon around the chicken coops, hoping that it would keep the foxes away.

“When we went back a few weeks later, George said he hadn’t seen any foxes and will continue to put hair around the coops. Not only was the hair saving his chickens, but they were laying better, and the grass is around the coops has also improved and is much greener.”

She continued:

“The hair keeps foxes away from the chickens as they get the scent of humans from the hair and are tricked into thinking that a human is present, so they stay away and the chickens stay safe.”

Erin explained that human hair contains three essential nutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium that are crucial for plant growth. As hair decomposes, these nutrients are slowly released.

To illustrate how hair cuttings could be used as a natural and slow-release fertiliser for plants, the students also carried out a ‘hairy tomato’ experiment.

Erin continued:

“We planted tomato seeds at the same time and to the same depth in the soil. The plants were kept in the same room, they were watered at the same time every day, kept in sunlight and at the same temperature. The only variable was that we put hair on the top of half the plants.

“Within the first week, the hairy tomato plants were growing well but there was no sign of growth on the others. After four weeks, there was significant growth on the hairy plants. They were longer with thicker stems compared to the plants with no hair and we expect to see tomatoes on the hairy plants first.”

She added:

“It’s been fascinating to see first-hand the benefits of a free waste product and it has certainly made learning a lot more interesting.”

The other members of the Green Hair team are Lillie Stewart from Magherafelt, Ellie Parke, from Ballyronan and Jemma Newell from Cookstown.

Hairdressing lecturer Victoria Smyth said she was delighted how her students had enthusiastically embraced Project Based Learning:

“PBL is an increasingly popular teaching method as it focuses on preparing young people for employment by encouraging them to get involved in real-world projects to assist with developing their entrepreneurship skills.

“Not only is PBL very beneficial for students, but as the Green Hair team have discovered, it can be very enjoyable.”

Joanne McCourt, Principal Lecturer for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Teaching and Learning at Northern Regional College, who has been spearheading the development of the FE Colleges’ Entrepreneurship Hub, said the Hub aimed to focus on development PBL skills for students across all six FE colleges.

She continued:

“The PBL competition ignites an entrepreneurial spark in students. It encourages them to think outside the box to develop their entrepreneurial skills by coming up with ideas for an end product or service.”

Congratulating all the finalists, Joanne added: The PBL competition continues to go from strength to strength with more students getting involved every year. The judges were very impressed with the quality of products in this year’s final and I wish all the students who took part in the competition every success as they work to further develop their business idea.”

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