Is a zero waste shave possible

Filed in Blog by on January 26, 2010 28 Comments
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musing over the razors in the landfill dilemma

musing over the razors in the landfill dilemma

After being teased horribly by BIC last year about the end to disposable razors ending up in landfill, I’m still trying to fathom the zero waste shave. And the more I think about it, the more confused I’m getting!

Take an electric razor. After it’s given up working you drop it in the WEEE recycling, right?

Apparently all the salvageable and useful materials are recycled and put to good use again.

Well, surely most electric razors contain a lot of plastic, so why can’t I recycle my disposable razor blades and handle?

Mr Green uses an electric razor, but I, not ready yet to fully embrace my inner cave woman, unleash my inner Love Goddess with a Gillette Venus razor and I replace the heads every 6 weeks or so.

I can’t stand the thought of an electric thing; I had one years ago and it just didn’t cut the mustard, or the hair, particularly well.

Waxing is ok, but you’ve got to grow the hair long and strong first and that’s not always desireable. Plus, if you do a home cold treatment you end up with all those sticky papers to dispose of. Hot sugaring with reusable strips appeals to me about as much as poking my eyeballs out with a screwdriver. I have an enormously high pain threshold, but I also have my limits.

Chemical depilatories, although possibly quite good on the zero waste ideal, don’t float my boat because of all the horrible stinky chemicals. Likewise bleaching – I don’t even use bleach down the toilet, let alone on my skin.

So what’s a girl to do? And how am I going to get through a year of zero waste hairless?

John Costigane, commenter and supporter of myzerowaste extrodinaire has been using a steel razor for several months and is getting on well with it. It’s more ‘minimal waste’ than zero waste because the shaver case and blade packaging is plastic. Unfortunately, it’s designed on the 1960’s T-Shape which doesn’t exactly fit the contours of your legs / armpits effortlessly, now does it? I feel a few nicks and cuts coming on; which means then I’ll need plasters and they end up in the bin too LOL!

According to John, the toughened double-sided blades last ages and can be recycled as any metal can be remelted. This is a big difference to the blades I use which are a combination of plastic and metal – it’s not advised that you try and take these apart for separate recycling.

John uses Pear’s soap which has a card box only, and produces a hand lather instead of faffing about with soap sticks and shaving brushes. To be honest I do this as well. I usually just use a bit of shampoo while I’m in the bath!

John has not found steel razors and blades in the shop, hence his eBay purchases. I’ve looked in the shops too and not found anything other than plastic at the moment.

I contacted King of Shaves, who, to their credit, use recycled plastic and card in the packaging of their blades, but alas there is no recycling available for the blades. They point out that the blades themselves, although stainless steel, will rust away in time, but of course the plastic parts will not so they loll around in the landfill long after my hairs have sprouted again.
I’m told the handle is made from injection moulded Polypropylene and Thermoplastic Elastomeric and according to the King of Shaves himself, neither of these materials are readily recyclable.

King of Shaves have run some trials on biodegradable materials and additives to use in their handles. There are two primary types available, the first breaks the product into smaller parts, but still in the same material format, which they don’t believe is a good thing as it makes it easier for it to get into ground water. Good on them!

The other types are supposed to decompose the product in a vastly reduced time frame (the estimates are that plastic could last over 500 years in landfill and these modified materials should last less than 10). Unfortunately their own tests have shown negligible weight loss over an accelerated 12 month trial, so they believe there is still more development work required in this field.

What King of Shaves focus on then, is providing quality products which last. The handles, when compared to peers in the market, uses considerably less resources to manufacture than others and they have attempted to make their cartridges durable (so the consumer gets a good number of shaves from them before they dull), so there are less to dispose of for a given number of shaves.

With a little bit of effort the consumers can also help extend the life of their cartridges by rinsing and drying them post use and then storing them in dry environment.

I’d love to hear your thoughts – I’m not ready to attempt a cut throat razor nor am I going to brave it au natrelle, so what other suggestions do you have for me?

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About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (28)

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  1. michael says:

    If you feel brave use a cut throat razor, keep it sharp with a leather belt . Recycling that broken leather belt as a strop.

  2. Jane says:

    Ladies – don’t shave because once you do you’ll find you need to shave or wax more for ever more. Put it off as long possible! What was once hardly noticeable if noticeable at all to anyone else but you will become really noticeable needing much more time and attention.

  3. Leila says:

    I just recently switched to salon waxing, and then again to a hot sugaring kit with reusable strips. The hair removal process takes more time than shaving did, but I’m happy not to need razors or shaving cream. I’m also happy with the resultsโ€”finer hair that grows back more slowly. I recommend it, but it certainly takes getting used to.

  4. John Costigane says:

    Great coverage of the shaving issue, including recent developments. Further to my comments on the steel razor, the plastic blade holder is minute compared to the types used in more modern replaceables. The difference is in design. The older t-shaped consists of a shaving head and handle, with a mechanism to allow placement of the double sided blade. In the modern types the handle is the basic unit with blade(s) and shaving head the replaceable part. There are 2 consequences of this latter system – versatility of design, and the associated profit potential, – recurring waste output, blade/head combination, large blade holder and packaging associated.

    The waste aspect was one of my biggest bugbears, especially, as you rightly said, there was no obvious alternative in the shops. Beth, at FakePlasticFish, mentioned the steel razor in a topic and I determined to use that type. For me, this is a far better choice and an end to the bad aspect of modern types.

    An update on Pears is not such good news since there is a new type of soap bar with an essential? plastic wrap. There are such setbacks sometimes in Zero Waste but eagle-eyed enthusiasts can find alternatives, for themselves and others.

  5. I know Beth Terry of Fake Plastic Fish uses a metal razor so you may want to talk to her. I use a Preserve razor. I don’t know what to do with the blades as far as I know they don’t take those back but they do take back the razor itself and recycle it plus it’s already made from recycled yogurt containers so I feel a bit better about it.

  6. I want to know where you are finding your Preserve razor? Ive used their toothbrushes and loved them. Im sure could find them on the net but want to avoid having to have them mailed to me.

    I have struggled with this whole problem myself. I use horrible plastic ones right now. To be fair, I use the snot out of them before I throw them out. My husband too would not be okay with me going all natural and no shaving. Not the most romantic thing lol.

    I would not use the creams due to washing chemicals down the drain. I dont do wax/sugar either plainly because im a big chicken. Cant imagine doing this ….uh hum everywhere. Yikes

    So glad you brought this up Mrs. Green!

  7. Alea says:

    I found an electric rechargeable water safe razor made by panasonic that I am quite happy with. The blades flex to get a closer shave than the ones of old. I have been using it for over 5 years and all I have to do is brush out the blades occasionally. When it dies I will have a hard time recycling it, but I will have gotten a lot of use out of it.

    Thanks for all of the info! I am interested in looking into the other options because my husband and daughter do not like using electric razors.

  8. Ruth Bonser says:

    Great blog, just discovered it…
    I use an epilator for legs – it absolutely KILLED the first time, but now is fine – in fact I weirdly quite enjoy it!

  9. Ben says:

    I swapped to a safety razor a few years ago, so that I no longer have to buy disposable plastic razors and their bulky packaging any more. It’s not quite zero waste as the blade has to go in the bin at the end of the week, but a small less than 1″ x 1″ packet of razor blades lasted about two years, so it’s very minimal waste.

    The remaining problem I have with shaving is the plastic shaving gel tubes. I’ve just opened the last tube (I stocked up during an offer some time ago), so hope to find a bar of shaving soap that works as a replacement.

  10. A well timed post, Mrs G – I removed my homegrown furry legwarmers for the first time in 2010 yesterday ๐Ÿ˜‰

    I’m “lucky” in that my fur is quite sparse & pale and I also don’t get my legs out that much so I don’t have to shave that often but when I do, I use a rechargable electric razor — it’s close enough for me and feels to result in less waste. I’ve had my current one for about 3 years, and the battery is still going strong — battery death has been the reason I’ve had to replace them in the past. Next time I need to replace it, I’m going to try to get a mains powered one to avoid that – I never use it in a wet place (not a euphemism, teehee!) anyway so don’t really need it to be battery powered.

    I asked about reuse/recycling disposable razors on Recycle This a few years ago – http://www.recyclethis.co.uk/20070319/how-can-i-reuse-or-recycle-disposable-razors – and someone suggested Mooming, which seems to be a type of sugaring (http://www.moom-uk.com/about.htm). Anyone tried it?

  11. Mrs Green says:

    @michael: I don’t feel brave, that’s why I’m looking for other options! The idea of a cut throat terrifies me ๐Ÿ˜€

    @Jane: well yeah, good point, but 20 years down the line it’s a bit late for the warning! Although I’ll be passing on my ‘hindsight’ knowledge to LMG…. but ya know, will she listen to her old mother LOL!

    @Leila: Thanks Leila; I’ve done home waxing in the past; it worked ok, but I was never convinced I had finer regrowth; it was just less stubbly when it came through…

    @John Costigane: Thanks for all the updates John, and good to know Pears are now off the menu. Sometimes the options get less and less while others grow as the trend increases…

    @Lisa @Retro Housewife Goes Green: Hi lisa, I’ve heard good things about the preserve razors and I’ll contact Beth – thank you!

    @surviving and thriving on pennies: Lisa is in the US, so doesn’t have the international issue on postage for the preserve razors as far as I’m aware. Why not contact her through her blog and ask her?

    @Alea: Good to know you’ve found something that suits you. Do you not have WEEE recycling over there to dispose of the razor when it finally gives up?

    @Ruth Bonser: Welcome to the site, Ruth. And Ouuuuccccchhhh! I have a high pain threshold but those things sound scary. As you say though, it’s something you’ve got used to. Does the hair have to be very long before using it and how long do they take to grow back?

    @Ben: Great news Ben. Do you need special shaving foam, would just regular soap be ok or would that dry out your skin? I just use anything – shampoo normally! (which is in a recyclable plastic tube)

    @Louisa @ RecycleThis: Congrats on the 2010 unveiling! Ah yes, I’ve heard of mooming; i saw it in a magazine last month. I’ll take a look at your page – thanks so much for joining in! I’ll let you know any updates as I discover them ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. Ben says:

    @Mrs Green: Shaving products have to work well or my skin can get sore. Regular soap is ok occasionally if I have nothing else around, but not for long term.

    I think you’d find the safety razors do work well. Contours aren’t a problem. Mine doesn’t cut or cause problems, just as long as I don’t press too hard or go too fast. The pressure you have to apply to shave with a modern disposable head razor is significantly higher.

    Never tried shampoo for shaving, but I did try a shampoo bar from lush a while back and it worked really well for hair washing. They wrapped it in paper for me, buy you could take your own container I’m sure. Once my last bottle of shampoo is used up I won’t buy any more, so that’s one item of packaging gone from my bathroom. I do recycle the bottles, but it’s a waste of materials to make plastic bottles if I don’t need them, and the caps have to be landfilled.

    I’m going to see if they make a shaving soap too.

  13. jackie says:

    laser hair removal! expensive so not ideal if you are on a tight budget, but it works!

  14. Mrs Green says:

    @Ben: Hi Ben, thanks for that. I can see that long term using soap might be problematic. I’ve written to Lush in the hope they’ll write something for us. They seem to do a lot of zero waste products ๐Ÿ™‚

    @jackie: Hi Jackie. Ahhh yes, another option. Like you say, not for everyone, but certainly a permanent option. Have you had it done? How many sessions did it take?

  15. Ben says:

    @Mrs Green: Hi Mrs Green, how did the hunt for zero waste shaving turn out in the end? I haven’t yet bought a bar of shaving soap, but have found one wrapped in paper that I’ll be mail ordering soon.

    I also found face cleaning bars, which I did buy. Unfortunately there is a thin plastic film wrapping, but I’m very impressed with how well the bar is lasting and the small plastic film is a fraction of the mass of my old face wash tubes.

    I’ve recently swapped to solid shampoo bars as well. Aside from saving packaging, these solid products are excellent for travel as they weigh less, take up less space, you can break off the right amount for however long you’re going, and they can’t leak.

  16. Jane says:

    Pressing a crown cap into a bar of soap for it to sit on helps to stop it going all soggy.

  17. Mrs Green says:

    @Ben: Hi Ben, not found anything perfect at the moment, but I’ve been sent an xtenda blade to try out – this should prolong the life of my razor, apparently. I’m not worried about the foam side of things because I tend to use shampoo anyway LOL!
    I have a solid shampoo bar to try (never thought about cutting a bit off for travelling – duh! What a fab idea) but am currently trialling clay which I can buy in a cardboard tube ๐Ÿ˜‰

    @Jane: Neat idea; I can’t stand soggy soap which is why I go for liquid.

  18. Jane says:

    @Mrs Green: And I don’t go for liquid ‘cos I hate the extra bottles! LOL.

  19. Mrs Green says:

    @Jane: I don’t have extra bottles; I refill ๐Ÿ˜‰

  20. Catherine says:

    I don’t know what the company does with the metal blades but Preserve.com has razors made out of #5 plastics. They come in containers that are sent back with the product (razors, thoothbrushes, etc…) and re-recycled. They also take any #5 plastics so I have my friends and family collect #5s (yogurt containers, sippy cups from Target, etc.. since #5s aren’t recyclable in my area) and I pack them in a box, print a label from Preserve.com and send them my plastic. If you buy the products individually, the packaging they come in becomes the mailing package once you are done with the product. This is the best I have found without going cavewoman or cutthroat ๐Ÿ™‚

    P.S. I am in the US so I am not sure about ordering from the company overseas. All their products are available online and through Amazon.com in larger packages.

  21. Mrs Green says:

    @Catherine: Hi Catherine, I’ve heard of Preserve; sadly not available over here in the UK at the moment. It looks a great ‘take back’ scheme and I’d love to see it happening over here – as you say it’s a compromise that helps us take a lighter footprint.

  22. Shazronnie says:

    My husband has recently switched to an old fashioned razor he bought on Amazon.
    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Edwin-Jagger-Chrome-Plated-Handle-Double-Edge/dp/B003UV8LR0/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1304942004&sr=8-6
    He absolutely loves it, and his skin is improving all the time.
    The blades are much cheaper – 2 years worth for ยฃ10 – and they are just metal, wrapped in paper. They come in packs of 5 which are in a small pastic box, no recycling symbol, but appear to be recyclable.
    He is using arko soap which comes wrapped in foil and paper.
    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Arko-Shaving-Cream-Stick-piece/dp/B003YPCYJS/ref=sr_1_1?s=drugstore&ie=UTF8&qid=1304942250&sr=1-1

  23. Mrs Green says:

    @Shazronnie: fantastic; thanks Shaz. I’m pleased your hubby is getting on so well with these and thanks for the link – Mr G was having a nudge at me the other week on this, so I’ll go and investigate and see whether I feel brave enough to take the plunge!

  24. Jane says:

    Gillette say they’ve reduced the plastic but are we being bamboozled,sugar-caned and bullrushed?

  25. Mrs Green says:

    @Jane: Lots of companies seem to ‘reduce the plastic’ but I really wish they would move on and get rid of all plastics where possible. It can’t be that hard

  26. Dave N says:

    Reduce your consumption. A safety razors handle can be bought for cheap and the blades are 100% recyclable. Us that for the big areas, thighs calves.

    It will provide a better shave with less irritation.

    Then use your disposable for hard areas.

    After about a year you will be soo comfortable with the safety razor you will give up on the disposable heads.

  27. Shrinking footprint says:

    Well done for such Inspiring Blog!

    Shaving leg, pits and other parts is extremely different to shaving one’s face.
    The skin on men face has to be shaved in some cases every day or generally far often than lady’s body parts therefore the lather used is far more important in this case.

    I do find that a good protective lather for men face is something shampoo or hand soap simply cannot give, and I didn’t even got to what shampoo can do to a man sensitive mug.

    For that reason a shaving brush and a hard or soft shaving soap is very useful as you can control how slick the lather produced without too much faff.

    Shaving soap also has better skin hydrating capability compare to shampoo or gel which I am sure MR Green’s mug will appreciate.

    Regarding the angles which the plastic Gillette Venus provides, with a double edge safety razor you simply train your hand how to do exactly the same without nicking or cutting, one month on the learning curve and you will never the Venus’s adjustable angle compensation.

    In the 20th century there were many ladies safety razors, these razors had usually a long handle and were very mild on the skin due to good protection of the safety bar, for examples are the Gillette Tech or the Lady Gillette (http://i44.photobucket.com/albums/f24/hephaestus61/Razors/Gillette-ladies-01.jpg).

    Now days if you are looking for something similar there is a company in India called Parker that makes safety razors made out of brass (so might last forever).

    They make a model called the 29L which is designed with lady’s in mind. It will pay for itself pretty quickly as well, cost around ยฃ19 on the net.

    Packaging wise, a puck of shaving soap can be obtained with hardly any packaging, there are many out there, some only with a cardoard box like the Edwin Jager soaps (http://connaughtshaving.com/ejssr.html). A hard soap like this can last very long time indeed if used with a shaving brush, probably a year of 3 times a week usage from a 70g bar.

    Many of these soaps are made with hardly any chemicals and in many cases from environmentally friendly substances.

    The blades: when you finish using those just slide into a metal tin of some sort and when it’s full, squash it a bit and put it with the rest of the metal recycle items.

    Like other said here men skin will get use to this way of shaving so will make the skin less sensitive and better looking in most cases, your mileage may vary on this.

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