In this weeks article we consider if zero waste shaving is possible. Many people today are looking at ways of minimizing how much waste they generate and send to landfill. We compare common shaving methods such as disposable cartridge razors with some less common methods including using a straight razor and determine if any of them can truly be considered zero waste. So if you are interested in reducing the waste you generate when shaving read on.

Zero Waste, What Does It Mean?

Zero Waste is a philosophy that promotes recycling of materials and the total elimination of waste, or reduction to the extent practicable. The Zero Waste International Alliance (ZWIA) considers zero waste to be a goal that is ethical, economical, efficient and visionary which acts as to guide people in altering their lifestyles to achieve that goal.

Zero waste was once the realm of die hard environmentalists however it is becoming a more common practice among the general population as people become more aware of the impacts our society and way of life are having on the planet. Global warming is more accepted than it has ever been and many people are beginning to wonder how they can reduce their carbon footprint on the planet, whether its from growing their own vegetables, ditching plastic shopping bags or cycling to work rather than driving.

Shaving is something that many people do every day of their lives and the use of disposable razors and cartridge razors is higher than its ever been. However disposable razors generally cannot be recycled and their ultimate fate is to lie in a landfill for the next few thousand years. So as a shaver what can you do to reduce the volume of waste going to landfill? The obvious answer is to stop using disposable razors but what are the alternatives and is zero waste shaving possible?

Shaving Methods

In this article we will be looking closely at the following shaving methods to see if zero waste shaving is possible:

  • One Piece Disposable Razors e.g. Bic Orange Razors
  • Replaceable Cartridge Razors e.g. Gillette Mach 3
  • Electric Shavers
  • Double Edged Safety Razors
  • Straight Razors
  • Beards and Not Shaving

We will not be considering the impacts that the initial construction of each method has, everything needs to be created and that obviously takes time and materials to do. Rather we will be considering each method from the moment you purchase them and begin to use them for shaving.

One Piece Disposable Razors

Can one piece disposable razors be recycled? Its a common question to ask and the answer isn’t as clear cut as it seems. One piece disposable razors such as the classic orange Bic razor are predominantly made from plastic with minor metal forming the actual razor blade. Both plastics and metal can be recycled however it is not as easy as that when it comes to razors blades. In many countries it is actually illegal to dispose of razor blades in general household waste or recycling bins. This is due to the risk posed to recycling facility workers from sharp razors as often the waste streams need to be handled by those workers. We would take a guess however that the majority of people who use one piece disposable razors do not know that it is often illegal to throw away razors with regular waste and do so anyway.

In addition, due to their small size and weight many recycling facilities consider it impractical to recycle razors and other small items. Consider that razors are small, lightweight and often scattered throughout other wastes and you can understand how difficult and time consuming recycling of these objects would be as opposed to tin cans, bottles and larger household items such as washing machines which can easily be segregated or are worth the effort to break down into their component parts and materials.

Some locations do have dedicated razor disposal bins where you can save up your used razors and ensure they are disposed of corrected in a dedicated waste stream. However these are rare and not at all common throughout the worlds cities and towns.

To be fair to companies like BIC they do offer a used razor mail in scheme in some limited countries including France. Shavers can mail in their used razors to a BIC recycling facility which strips the components and recycles them into machine parts for use in washing machines. This scheme is not worldwide and appears to have limited footprint.

So it seems that when it comes to one piece disposable razor blades the chances of getting a zero waste shave are slim. Companies such as BIC do point out that the environmental impact from disposal of used razors is limited due to their small size however when you consider how many are used worldwide then combined there is considerable waste being disposed to landfills.

Replaceable Cartridge Razors

Replaceable cartridge razors such as the Gillette Mach 3 are not much different from the one piece razors. They do offer a slight benefit when it comes to zero waste as the handle is often re-used for an extended period while only the razors head is disposed off. Outside of this though there is still considerable waste being disposed to landfill from the shear volume of razor heads being used worldwide every day of the year.

Electric Shavers

With regards to zero waste shaving electric razors are an interesting item. If we consider the shaver alone then yes they can be thought of as a zero waste shaving method. You buy the electric razor, plug it in and shave. On initial thought there are no components that you have to throw away or dispose off.

Most electric razors these days however include rechargeable batteries so that you don’t have to have the shaver plugged in when in use. Batteries come in many forms including lead, nickel, zinc and lithium based batteries, all of which are toxic to the environment. If batteries are disposed off to landfill then over time they creak down and the metals and toxic chemicals within them leach out. Landfill leachate is a major environmental issue particularly with older less well designed landfills. Any leachate reaching groundwater will contaminate it and risks being transported and discharged into surface water bodies where it can have an impact of human health and the ecosystem.

The majority of batteries can be recycled if disposed off to an appropriate facility. So when it comes to a zero waste shave then the use of an electric shaver is an excellent idea as long as you are aware that once the battery has reached the end of its useful life it needs to be disposed of correctly to an appropriate battery recycling facility.

There is of course the consumption of electricity when using electric shavers which over time can add up. So although electric razors are a good idea if you are trying to reduce your waste going to landfill if you are being totally strict with the zero waste goal then you may want to consider some alternative options.

Double Edged Safety Razor

Double edged safety razors are considered a traditional wet shaving method. It’s how your grandfather shaved and although several patents dating back to 1847 are known it wasn’t until the early 1900’s that double edged safety razors were commonplace. This was largely due to the efforts of King Camp Gillette who patented his design in 1901 and managed to secure a contract with the US Army. Soldiers fighting on the front lines in World War 1 were provided with a Gillette double edged safety razor as part of their kit. The ease of use meant that the common soldier was able to maintain a clean shaven appearance wherever they were posted. As part of the contract the soldiers were allowed to retain their razors after the war had finished ensuring that Gillette had a solid customer base to continue selling to.

With regards to zero waste shaving a double edged safety razor is a good option but still requires disposable razor blades. A good quality razor blade that is looked after and maintained can last anywhere from one to three months of use. The razor blades are also extremely lightweight and use minimal materials. So compared to other disposable options like a one piece razor or cartridge razor the volume of waste from a double edged safety razor blade is minimal. However there are still issues with disposal of used razor blades, the same rules and regulations apply to used double edged safety razor blades in that technically you are not allowed to dispose of them in general waste and recycling and its often not worth the effort of recycling facilities to sort and manage this waste stream. One method for getting around these restrictions is to use a blade bank which is simply a metal tin that can be used to store used blades at home and once full placed in the recycle bin. You can make your own blade bin at home from a used food can, simply wash it then fill it up with used blades. Once full crimp the opening shut to prevent the used razor blade from falling out and dispose off. You can also buy a variety of blade banks from shaving shops that are more aesthetically pleasing than food cans if desired.

So the use of double edged safety razors is a step forward with regards to zero waste shaving when compared to one piece razors and cartridge razors due to the very small volume of waste produced but its not truly zero waste shaving. For many people however the use of a double edged safety razor will likely be the closest and best option for zero waste. Our final method of shaving is the use of straight razor but with a steep learning curve it is not likely suited for most regular shavers.

Straight Razors

Straight razors have been around in one form or another for several hundred years. Due to a steep learning curve they were traditionally confined to specialist barbers meaning that every time you wanted a clean shave you’d have to visit a barber shop. This in part was what made the double edged safety razor so popular, it removed the steep learning curve associated with shaving and meant that the common man or woman could shave by themselves in their own homes.

To use a straight razor you need the razor, a strop and a method of sharpening the razor, or honing. Honing can be done by yourself with practice or can be done by a specialist sharpener. Stropping is done by repeatedly passing the razor along a length of leather which refines the razor blade and removes any small nics and imperfections caused from regular use. Stropping of a straight razor is recommended before and after each use.

Straight razor maintenance requires that the blade be cleaned and dried between uses. This can be done simply with water or if the blade is not to be used for a length of time between shaves then the blade should be coated with a small volume of oil.

A good quality straight razor that is well looked after and maintained correctly will last for decades of regular use. With regards to zero waste shaving the use of a straight razor is as close to zero waste as we can hope to get. With the correct care there truly is zero waste. However this is the problem that many people will face, regular care of a straight razor requires skill and effort. The use of s straight razor also requires considerable practice and effort but the rewards are worth it. Not only can you achieve a zero waste shave but you will also obtain a far superior shave than any other method mentioned above. All you have to ask yourself is, am I willing to put in the time, effort and money to perfect straight razor shaving?

Beards and Not Shaving

We finish this article by looking a one final option, not shaving. For zero waste this is a viable option as you obviously don’t require any form or razor blade so you have no waste to worry about. Not shaving isn’t an option for everyone though, some men just can’t grow a beard or the hair growth is patchy creating an undesirable look. Women don’t need to worry about beards as much but due to social norms other areas of their bodies are shaved regularly, if women choose to stop shaving are they comfortable going against these social norms for the sake of zero waste shaving.

Beards still require maintenance and many men will use electric or battery powered beard trimmers. at longer lengths a beard can be maintained by used a set of scissors which could be considered zero waste but again this option won’t be suited to everyone. So although beards and not shaving are a potential zero waste option they are only suited to a smaller portion of the population.

Zero Waste Shaving, Is It Possible?

In today’s world striving for zero waste shaving is a worthy cause, in our opinion however a true zero waste shave is not likely obtainable by the masses. Rather we can all look at the various options and greatly reduce our waste going to landfill. That is why at Orcadia we consider the use of a double edged safety razor to be the best option overall. A double edged safety razor is a cheap option, gives a high quality shave and has minimal waste. In some cities or towns you may be lucky and be able to dispose of your used razor blades at an appropriate facility.