Zero Waste Shaving: Disposable vs. Durable Razors

Zero Waste Shaving: Disposable vs. Durable Razors

Are you looking to change your lifestyle to one that is more sustainable and zero waste? Have you considered starting with zero waste shaving options?

The great news is that shaving with a durable razor can be a great step in that direction. It also provides a better shave and costs you a lot less money. But not everyone knows much about them. So I thought this would be a great opportunity to talk about the differences between safety or straight razors versus disposable.

Confessions of a Shaving Tech Junkie

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I have almost never been on the leading edge of technology.  When the first Nintendo console hit American markets, my family got an Atari.  When the Super Nintendo hit stores, we got the Nintendo. With movies going from VHS to DVD to Blu-Ray, with music going from cassettes to CD’s to digital players, model updates or new technologies for smartphones, cars, or personal computers, I have always been at least a generation behind the curve.  

The one exception was razors.  As companies added more blades or features, I was always right there buying the new gimmick.  

In part it’s because I have sensitive skin. I bought into the notion that more blades meant a better shave with less irritation. Also I was very poor in my twenties. So it was usually cheaper in the short run to buy a new disposable razor than a durable one.  

Then one day I finally treated myself to a straight razor shave at a barber shop. Getting a barbershop shave has been a lifelong curiosity. Being the chatterbox that I am, I asked a lot of questions about how it’s done during the process. Between the experience of the shave, the results, and cost analysis later, I came to turn my whole shaving philosophy around, and a month later I bought my first straight razor. Thus began my switch to a zero waste shaving routine.

The Truth About Disposable Razors

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Shaving with modern razors is really expensive.  Unless you have both incredibly soft hair and tough skin, shaving with the super-cheap two-blade 5-for-$10 disposable razors is only slightly less unpleasant than shaving with 40-grit sandpaper.  You can pick up the fanciest new razor from one of the major producers for under $10. However, the cartridges are where the real expense comes in.

There are subscription services, shave clubs, and bulk purchases online that can reduce your cost per blade. But whenever it came time to cough up for a new box of cartridges I always got sticker-shock sickness from seeing exactly how much money I was going to have to lay out.

Coming up with an objective cost benefit analysis for razors isn’t easy.  The number of shaves you get from each blade depends on a lot of variables. The condition of your skin, the density and coarseness of your hair, how much of your body you are shaving, the quality of your water, and your personal process for shaving all play a part in how much life you get from a cartridge.  

Considering the expense, disposable razors never seem to last as long as we think they should. Sadly, there is no way to really test the condition of the blades. And I found indicator strips have always seemed pretty useless. I learned by trial and error about how many shaves I could expect to get from a cartridge before it became unproductive and unpleasant.

Being a modern American balding male, I also shave my head, which really burns through blades.  Where I might get as many as 10 shaves for my face, I learned never to use a cartridge on my head more than 3 times. Otherwise I might as well save some money and use steel wool.

That’s the economics.  

The Environmental Impact

On the environmental side, disposable razors are problematic. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) once estimated that 2 billion razors and cartridges get tossed out in the U.S. each year (1). That’s a lot of plastic sitting in our dumps.

And while the plastics used in almost all disposable razors are in fact recyclable, no city will take them. This is because of the metal components.  The blades themselves are impossible to separate from the plastic. And the blades present a potential hazard to waste management workers. Even when throwing the cartridges in the trash you should wrap them in cardboard and tape it shut. This is to make sure no one can get injured by exposed blades.  

If you’re not willing to let go of disposable razors but want to make it as green as possible you can disassemble the things yourself, storing all the little metal parts separately to be taken to a scrap metal company when you have enough saved up to make it worth a trip. That’s a lot of hassle though. Also, it is a lot of extra time and gas to get the materials into the recycling process, which itself is not the most effective way trying to reduce your footprint.  You can do a lot more for the environment, and actually get a better shave, by investing in durable razors.

Zero Waste Shaving Options

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The first step towards zero waste shaving is throwing out those disposable razors. There are two kinds of durable razors: straight razors and safety razors.  

Straight Razors

A straight razor has a single blade housed in a handle, and the blade is sharpened each time before use.  While not infinitely durable, a straight razor that is well cared-for will last longer than you will.

Straight razors intimidate some people, and, in truth, it takes some practice to master.  I don’t have the steadiest hands and have been known to be a bit accident prone. But the fact is in the three years since I started using a straight razor I have never cut myself. And I haven’t had any razor burn after I figured out the correct way to use the blade.  

I bought a moderately-priced model for about $150, which turned out to be less than what I spent on replacement cartridges in a single year. There are options out there for as low as $40. However, you’ll be better off in the end spending a little more for something that will give you the right experience and keep you using it. Even with a more expensive one, it will still be cheaper than disposables.

Safety Razors

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A safety razor is a durable metal handle with a replaceable single blade.  It’s easier to use than a straight razor, requiring far less practice to master. And the blades are far easier to separate, clean, and recycle than any disposable cartridge.  

The buy-in for safety razors is a bit cheaper than straight razors, anywhere from $20 to $150 for a handle. Likewise, the blades themselves are generally in the ballpark of $1 each.  One great thing about safety razors is that the blades are almost universally interchangeable. Buy whatever handle you like, and virtually any blade from any company will fit it.

Technically, one could include a good electric razor in this category of zero waste shaving.  The blades can be sharpened or replaced. And replaced blades could be recycled in the same way as old safety razor blades. Despite advertising claims, though, I don’t think anyone would agree that an electric razor shaves as close as a blade, so the quality of the shave is not the same.  Also, they all contain plastic components. And, of course, they require electricity.  So an electric razor has advantages over disposables. But is nowhere near as good an option as manual straight or safety razor.

But What About the Shave?

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There is no way to qualitatively measure what kind of razor produces a superior shave. It’s entirely a matter of personal preference. From even cursory reading online though, I found that I am not alone in preferring durable razors to disposables.

Many have had the same experience I have: fewer cuts and less razor burn. When you factor in the long-term cost reduction and the warm tingly feeling of adding shaving to the list of things you’re doing that are less harmful for the world around you, durable razors are the clear winner if you can scrape together the cash to pay your shaving costs up front.

Yes, there are some downsides.  

Shaving with a durable razor takes longer, especially in the beginning.  The straight razor, in particular, takes some getting used to. And even when you’ve gotten down all the tricks there is more prep and clean-up than your fancy 5-blade vibrating doohickey.  The expense, while far cheaper in the long run, is all up front (which is hard for some) and impatient shavers can struggle with the slower pace.

But, if you’re willing to change things up a bit, you can get a superior shave, save a lot of money, and take pride in adding another truly sustainable practice to your life.

Where to Buy?

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Straight Razors:

Safety Razors:

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Happy Shaving!

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