How to Get a More Sustainable Shave

Many eco-conscious consumers swear by old-fashioned safety razors instead of disposables. 1stockphotopro/Shutterstock

Shaving is a beloved grooming ritual for many — and a curse for others. Wherever you fall on the hair-removal spectrum, your shaving regimen probably produces more waste than you realize — everything from spent razor cartridges to empty shaving cream cans. Assuming you’re not ready to forgo the clean-cut look, what are the best ways to trim both unwanted body hair and waste? Read on for some eco-inspired shaving solutions that just may prune your budget, too.

Breaking the throwaway habit

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that Americans toss 2 billion disposable razors annually. That’s mountains upon mountains of plastic (not to mention blades) that pile up in landfills with little chance of biodegrading in the foreseeable future.

Single-use razors aren’t just nearly impossible to recycle, they’re also expensive. Sure, they seem like a deal (the cheapest 12-packs are under $3), but considering one razor only lasts a couple weeks before the blade wears down, they’re really no bargain.

Environmentally, a slightly better alternative is a reusable plastic razor that takes replacement blade cartridges. That way you’re only tossing the small cartridges and not the whole razor. Even so, you’re still generating waste. And financially it’s not exactly a money-saver. Companies usually offer a great deal on the razor itself but gouge you on refill cartridges. Even worse, cartridges often come boxed in excessive cardboard and plastic packaging.

Old-time shave

double-edge blade in safety razor
Double-edge razor blades, used in safety razors, come without excessive packaging and are recyclable. András Bogoly/flickr

As the saying goes, everything old is new again, and so it goes with shaving. According to this New York Times Magazine article, one environmentally sensible option is to head back in time and use a safety razor. Yes, those metal razors with double-edge blades that your dad (or grandpa) used. They’ve remained pretty much unchanged since the turn of the 20th century. Not only do they offer a good value, but they go a long way toward curbing waste.

According to the NYT writer, his chrome-finished razor cost $33 and will probably last for decades. The blades come in a 100-pack for $10 that keeps him supplied for more than a year. Another bonus: Razors are austerely wrapped in wax paper and a minimalist cardboard box. Even better, they’re made of recyclable stainless steel. Check if your local recycler accepts used blades or drop them off at a scrap-metal recycler.

An even greener vintage option could well be the straight-edge razor. Sweeney Todd fans may recoil at using one of these wickedly sharp folding blades with a handle, but they’re virtually waste-free (assuming you use a traditional model that doesn’t take replaceable blades). Plus, users swear by the close shave.

Expect a high upfront cost — some straight-edge razors sell for over $100, including maintenance supplies — but there’s nothing to replace. That means no more tossing old blades, no packaging waste and no recurring expense. You’ll need to sharpen (hone) the blade periodically and keep it clean and dry, but it should last for years, if not a lifetime.

Learn the fine art of a straight-edge shave in this video:

More options for a greener shave

Electric shavers. There’s an upfront cost to purchase the shaving unit, but the blades, if cared for properly, only need to be replaced every couple of years. Yes, that means tossing them out, but whatever waste you generate may be offset by the water you save with a dry shave. And, if you buy a solar-charging model, you also avoid using electricity.

Recycled content razors. For those times when only a razor with disposable blades will do, you can lower your eco-footprint by opting for a recycled content model like this one from Preserve. It’s created from 100-percent recycled #5 plastic that’s fully recyclable after use. Plus, the packaging is made of renewable materials and can be reused as a travel case.

make your own shaving cream
Commercial shaving creams are stuffed with health-harming chemicals and are packaged in throwaway cans. For a cleaner, greener shave, make your own natural creams and store in a reusable container. Scott Feldstein/flickr

Handmade shaving cream. Last, but not least, minimize waste by giving up your store-bought lather habit and concocting your own shaving cream. You eliminate packaging, plus handmade creams steer clear of toxic carcinogens and endocrine disrupters, like sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulphate (SLES), commonly found in commercial shaving cream brands. Check out these DIY recipes.