In a 1990 consumer handbook, the Environmental Protection Agency estimated that the United States produces 2 billion disposable razors and razor blades per year. There are now 80 million more people living in the country, and while many of them are waste-conscious enough to opt for reusable options, the plastic razor still rules.
The problem with plastic razors is that they’re only good for about three to ten shaves and then they’re sent to landfill where they could potentially spend hundreds of years decomposing. The mixed materials make them difficult or impossible to recycle, and their sharp nature makes them dangerous to handle.
Here we discuss the alternatives – from bamboo handle to multi-blade to rust-resistant – and other ways to make your shaving routine more eco-friendly.
Single or multi-blade razors
Most conventional disposable razors have three to five blades, the first sometimes slightly dulled and used to lift hairs from the skin, making it easier to cut the second. The third could cut closer or repeat the function of the main blade if others come after.
According to the brands that sell them, multi-blade razors give you a closer shave and reduce bulging as the blades glide over the skin. Gillette, one of the leading brands of disposable razors, claims “more blades equals better load distribution” – but others claim it also creates more friction and more irritation because the blades cut so close to the skin, sometimes even below the surface.
Single blade razors shave on the surface of the skin, which means less friction and less risk of razor burn, ingrown hairs and general irritation. The closer shave also means you can make fewer passes over the skin, which leads to a more efficient shaving experience.
What is the difference between a safety razor and a straight razor?
Both types of single blade razors are safe and straight. Straight razors are exactly what they sound like: long, exposed blades that often fold into their banana-shaped handles. Safety razors have built-in guards that prevent them from pressing too hard on the skin. They are usually weighted and rely on that weight for a close shave. They do not require any additional pressure.
Manual or electric razors
Electric razors are another good alternative to disposable razors, but they are not as durable or overall environmentally friendly as safety razors because they require energy (often from a non-renewable resource) and are usually plastic. One good thing about electric shavers is that they don’t need to be used with foams, gels or creams. However, electrical products are notoriously difficult to recycle.
Choose a plastic-free razor
Reusable razor handles are most often made of steel, such as stainless steel or chrome, or a mix of steel and natural materials such as wood or bamboo. Steel is supposed to last at least 20 years but can sometimes last over a century. That’s much longer than bamboo and wood, mostly because these materials break down quickly in humid conditions.
A challenge that comes with metal is rust prevention. Some brands are better than others at solving this problem, even so, rust can be easily prevented and corrected with proper storage and care. Metal can often be recycled while bamboo and wood should be thrown away or composted (if not coated).
Reusable razors come in single-blade and multi-blade formats, but they are usually single-blade safety razors. These are more environmentally friendly anyway because the accumulated waste is just individual blades, not entire multi-blade razor heads.
Recycling of razors and blades
Although TerraCycle has partnered with Gillette to recycle razors and razor blades (of all brands), disposable razors are not accepted for selective collection because they contain more than one material.
With single blade safety razors, the only accumulated waste is the blade itself, which can be removed easily by simply unscrewing the base of the handle. Blades are universal, cheap and easy to find. Most should be replaced after about five or six shaves; disposable razors are good for three to ten.
Safety razor blades are made of steel and can be recycled by some of the brands that sell them, such as Leaf shaving and Albatross Drawings, TerraCycle, or often through your collection service if they accept the metal. You should always put blades in a safety box or sharps container before recycling them, and it’s best to contact your local recycling center before throwing them in the blue bin.
More sustainability tips for shaving
Between the disposable nature of plastic razors and the chemicals still included in conventional shaving products, this simple grooming habit can seem like a minefield of environmental vandalism. Here are some additional tips to reduce your impact while shaving.
- Store reusable razors outside of the shower and away from moisture to reduce the risk of rust.
- Do not throw away your reusable razor if you notice rust forming; treat the rust with a paste of baking soda and water, leave the solution for an hour, then scrub the rust with steel wool.
- Switch to a shaving bar to reduce your use of plastic.
- Look for natural shaving products that don’t contain harsh chemicals like triethanolamine (TEA), artificial fragrances, and propylene glycol. Search for products on the Environmental Working Group Skin Deep Database to see what chemicals they contain and how they rank.
- Go the extra mile to recycle, even if that means buying a TerraCycle envelope and mailing recyclables.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are safety razors more environmentally friendly?
Reusable safety razors are more durable than conventional razors because you can replace the blade alone (which can be recycled) instead of an entire plastic razor (which cannot be easily recycled due to mixed materials).
Are safety razors zero waste?
Safety razors can be zero waste if you recycle the refillable blades, which are sometimes accepted by curbside recycling services. This way, nothing goes to landfill.
Can you make your own natural shaving cream?