By Rachel Koning Beals
It’s a daily or weekly routine for many, making shaving one of the most costly hygiene habits for our wallets and the environment, especially if we opt for the convenience of disposable razors.
Increasingly, consumers are rethinking where and how their razors and razor blades are manufactured and what happens after they’re thrown away.
Google /zigman2/quotes/202490156/lastsale GOOGL +0.33% said “razors” ranked among its top searches in 2021 when consumers were tracking down “sustainable” products. Curious shoppers also looked for sustainable engagement rings , cleaning products and denim more often than for other green-minded products.
In October, Google introduced features to book flights or purchase appliances that have lower carbon footprints , a Nest smart thermostat program to support clean energy from home, and allegedly, eco-friendly routing on Google Maps. And the company added tougher screening of climate-change denials, promoting instead U.N.-backed climate-change data . The search giant, a stepping-off point for many shoppers, says the push is part of its “goal to help one billion people make more sustainable choices by 2022.”
Razors add up
Most disposable razors only last for up to 6-9 shaves, after which they’re blunt and destined for a landfill. The average person who shaves daily or every few days can burn through some 40-50 disposable razors each year and if each razor weighs around half a pound, that’s roughly 1,200 pounds of mostly plastic razors per individual.
Considering the U.S. population, Americans tossed out an estimated 2 billion pounds of disposable razors and blades each year in the 1990s, the last comprehensive breakdown from the EPA. That estimate is now probably too low, given population increases and the popularity of disposable razors over formerly traditional shaving options, such as longer-lasting safety razors or electric shavers, says the Natural Resources Defense Council . And, according to this USA Today report , the EPA no longer separates disposable razor data from other plastics.
Increasingly, some consumers are forgoing plastic razors for a throwback shaving method — a typically metal alternative safety razor , or a double-edged razor. It preceded the popular use of the disposable and is typically made from either brass, chrome or stainless steel.
Because disposable razors are made with both plastic and metal, which are hard to separate, they are difficult and costly to recycle. In contrast, safety razor blades, which snap in and out of place, can be recycled with other metals. When allowed to rust and break down, they decompose naturally over time without leaching toxic chemicals into waterways, soil or the air.
Safety razors, once you get the hang of it, are relatively easy to use. They offer a closer shave than disposable razors and are easier on the skin, say proponents.
Barbers surveyed by New York Magazine landed on the German-made Merkur 34C heavy-duty short-handle safety razor based on the company’s long manufacturing history and a respectable price point at $42. It’s size and design make it well-suited for beginners.
Another option is Zomchi, about $20 on Amazon.com /zigman2/quotes/210331248/composite AMZN -0.26% . People with sensitive skin swear by these plastic-free safety razors, say the editors at Elle magazine . Just replace the recyclable blades whenever they’re wearing out.
When handled carefully, safety-razor blades can be recycled. A blade “bank” is a metal container that can safely store discarded blades. There are blade banks online that are available for a few dollars each. Or consider this “ blade disposal unit ,” featured on eco-home essentials company Public Goods’ blog .
Disposables are changing, too
But for those who like disposable razors, either because they are traveling, or loathe the idea of a razor sitting around and collecting risky bacteria or going dull and raising the risk of a painful nick, there are more plastic-free and zero-waste razors coming to market.
Consumers are pushing companies to think about the lingering days and years of their products long after their initial use. Design and technology have evolved, too, as has the variety of mail-order razors, blades and shaving accoutrement, giving the drugstore brands some healthy competition.
All of these factors are driving even major consumer conglomerates to rethink their product lines.
Procter & Gamble’s /zigman2/quotes/202894679/composite PG +1.29% Gillette has rolled out its Planet KIND razors made with 60% recycled materials and durable blades that don’t need to be replaced every other day. Plus, through a partnership with TerraCycle, every razor is 100% recyclable, Gillette says.
TerraCycle was one of the first waste management companies to offer a large-scale program for tough-to-recycle products and link up large and small consumer-product firms to the recycling needs at customer homes. It has faced criticism and a lawsuit alleging the company and its clients overstate the benefits, which it is defending.
Another large manufacturer, Edgewell Personal Care /zigman2/quotes/206004250/composite EPC +0.94% earlier this year said its Sustainable Care 2030 strategy will include its portfolio of men’s and women’s disposable razors, including Schick Xtreme 3 men’s and Skintimate three blade women’s razors. The products will include handles made with up to 100% post-consumer recycled (PCR) plastic. The company also launched a program to encourage the recycling of its disposable razors and to provide an alternative to curbside recycling programs, which typically do not accept whole disposable razors.
Smaller rivals are also being inventive. One example, AkHippyChic makes an eco-friendly, disposable razor made from a wheat straw handle and stainless steel blades, which ships in sustainable packaging. JungleCulture has a bamboo-handled version.
The plastic-free, all-metal Hanni razor acts as a cross between a longer-lasting safety razor and a disposable. It has been treated with a powder coating that will keep it from rusting in the shower, earning it a 2021 award from Allure Magazine.
Beyond materials and recycling, some shoppers may also care about the social credentials of the company they’re buying from.
The unisex UpCircle Beauty safety razor is made of chrome and is meant to be recycled through TerraCycle when its long life does fade. Plus, a portion of its purchase price supports the program 1% For The Planet, which redirects profits toward Earth-friendly endeavors .