Just as shaving products can affect your personal health, they can also have a significant environmental impact. As part of this Leaf Score series on shaving, I’ve already looked at toxic chemicals in shaving products and their detrimental effects on human health, aquatic animals and the wider ecosystem. In this piece, I take a closer look at the environmental impact of disposable razors and electric shavers.
The Environmental Impact of Shaving Products
Most disposable razors only last for 6-9 shaves, after which they’re blunt and destined for landfill. The average person who shaves daily or near-daily can go through some 40-50 disposable razors a year. This amounts to a staggering 2400 razors or more over a lifetime of shaving.
If each razor weighs around half a pound, that’s around 1200 lbs. of trash per person. Multiply that by the number of people in the US and it’s no surprise that an estimated 2 billion pounds of disposable razors and blades were thrown away each year in America in the 1990s. That estimate is now probably too low, given population increases and the number of people switching to disposable razors from more traditional shaving options.
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 can be recycled with other metals and, if allowed to rust and break down, decompose naturally over time without leaching toxic chemicals into waterways, soil, or the air.
Disposable razors also typically come packaged in plastic, cardboard, and more plastic. So much plastic in fact, that the Gillette Fusion razor, made by Proctor and Gamble, won Environment Victoria’s Golden DUMP award for its “gratuitous use of packaging”, and the award for excessive use of material, in 2009. The annual DUMP (dangerous and useless materials in packaging) awards expose the seven worst types of environmentally damaging packaging being sold on supermarket shelves.
Despite their environmental deficiencies, disposable razors can feel more convenient and are usually less expensive than buying cartridges, but your best bet, for your pocketbook, the environment, and for the quality of shave, is to use a safety razor. If you take good care of it, a single safety razor can last a lifetime and the blades are recyclable and inexpensive.
Ah, but what about an electric razor? In some ways, yes, these are preferable to disposable plastic razors, but there are still some downsides to going electric.
Electric shavers – eco-friendly?
Whether you shave every day with an electric shaver, or just every so often, eventually you’ll need to replace the blades or the whole head, and at some point the whole razor will stop working. When this happens, the razor will likely end up in landfill, and more materials will be needed to produce a new electric razor. Hardly eco-friendly or sustainable, right?
Sure, the energy consumption of an electric razor isn’t massive, but it all adds up, especially if you’re shaving every day. And, if you’re drawing energy from the grid, and that energy comes from coal, shaving for just 10 minutes a day with an electric shaver may be the equivalent of burning 450 grams of coal every year. The emissions associated with burning that amount of coal to produce your electricity (90.87 g of carbon dioxide per megajoule) can be calculated at around and 272 g of CO2. Given that a third of adult men in the US shave every day, if they all chose to shave with an electric shaver, this would amount to emissions of almost 10,094 tons of CO2 every year. As I said, small habits add up.
So, if all this math has gotten you into a lather, maybe it’s time to look at some alternatives to disposable and electric razors.