How Bad Are Disposable Razors For The Environment?

Plastic razors are a regular part of so many people's grooming routines. But are they just as bad for the planet as plastic straws?

About a month ago, I received a pitch email in my way-too-full inbox that caught my attention: “Plastic razors are the new plastic straws,” its subject line declared.

The topic wasn’t one I’d given much thought to in the past. Yes, I’ve been paying attention to the debate surrounding plastic straws and plastic bags. Yes, I know that our oceans are severely polluted with plastic waste, posing a threat to many different species.

And yes, I use disposable razors.

I can bet I’m not the only one. In fact, I know I’m not the only one. Back in the early ’90s, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported that America produced 2 billion disposable razors and blades. According to a more recent report by Statista, 163 million consumers in the U.S. used disposable razors in 2018. One can only assume that the majority of those 163 million disposable razors end up getting, well, disposed of.

It’s not a secret that disposable razors are wasteful. They’re meant to be used a few times and then thrown in the garbage. They’re also not easily recyclable. And if we continue buying them, companies will continue making them. Since most of them are made of plastic, that means continued use of fossil fuels for a product that will probably end up in a landfill.

But how bad are disposable razors really? And are there types out there that are recyclable? Read on to find out.

For starters, disposable razors aren’t usually recyclable

While most disposable razors are made of plastic, you typically can’t recycle them as they are, Darby Hoover, senior resource specialist of food and agriculture at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told HuffPost.

She pointed out that disposable razors are usually made of several different materials, which make them a challenge to recycle properly: There’s the handle, which often contains both plastic and some sort of rubber for grip, and the head or cartridge, which includes the metal blades embedded in a plastic frame. (Aside from the recycling challenge, the sharp blades also pose a safety risk to waste workers if they’re not disposed of properly, which is another thing to keep in mind.)

However, she noted, there are a few exceptions.

“If you’re able to remove the cartridge and you live in a place that takes all hard plastics in the recycling, you may be able to put the plastic component that is not the cartridge into the recycling bin,” Hoover said.

In terms of razor packaging, Hoover said the cardboard can usually be easily recycled, but that isn’t always the case with the plastic outer shell.

A lot of it comes down to your local recycling program rules, so it’s always best to check your local municipality or county website to find specific recycling guidelines regarding what can and can’t be thrown into your recycling bin, Hoover said.

“Every community in the U.S. does recycling a little bit differently,” Hoover said. “Each person has to check where they are and see what can be accepted.”

Stephanie Moses from TerraCycle, an independent organization in the U.S. that focuses on recycling “un-recyclable” items, said there isn’t a market for the materials razors are made of.

“What that means is that in order to send it through your curbside or municipal recycling program, the logistics and processing of the razors is actually more than the value of the material for the processing facilities. They can’t make a profit from it, so it’s deemed non-recyclable,” Moses added.

Nehru Sulejmanovski / EyeEm via Getty Images

If you can’t recycle your disposable razors, what can you do to reduce their environmental impact?

If you like the convenience of a disposable razor but don’t love throwing out all that plastic, look for product-specific recycling programs that aim to keep certain types of waste out of the landfill.

TerraCycle launched one such program with Gillette earlier this year. According to Moses, who works on the partnership between the two companies, it’s the first nationwide program for recycling disposable razors, replaceable-blade cartridge units and the plastic razor packaging from all brands.

You can participate by shipping used razors to TerraCycle ― you can download shipping labels ― or dropping them off at a designated drop-off point. TerraCycle will then break down and separate the materials.

Moses said the program, which was launched in February, is still too new to provide concrete details about how many razors have been collected.

Hoover also brought attention to TerraCycle’s program. She admitted to being a fan of the organization’s work but also noted that the average consumer probably isn’t going to be so willing to add another step to their recycling routine.

“There are other options that I think many people would probably go to,” Hoover said. “That said, this [program] is a great option for those who are using disposable razors and want to recycle them.”

Speaking of other options, there are more eco-friendly alternatives to disposable razors

If you’re looking to cut down on your disposable razor usage, there are a number of alternatives out there.

For example, if shaving is your go-to option, you could always try a steel safety razor, which uses replacement blades and can last for years. (Safety razors, like this rose gold version from Oui, also happen to look a lot sleeker on your counter or in the shower, if we do say so ourselves.) On top of being more environmentally friendly, safety razors are known to cause less irritation on the skin and are particularly good for those with sensitive skin types.

“If you have sensitive skin, fewer blades will be more gentle on your skin. More blades just means that there are more razors scraping across the skin, more risk of irritation and more stripping of oils,” Dr. Jeremy Fenton, a dermatologist with Schweiger Dermatology Group NYC, told HuffPost via email.

You can also try to look for companies that use recycled materials to create their disposable products. For example, Preserve, a company that aims to make sustainable home goods, sells disposable razors made from recycled materials (yogurt cups, to be more specific). They also take back their razor handles for proper recycling.

Will ditching disposable razors really make that much of a difference?

While you, as one person, might not feel like you can make a huge positive impact by ditching your disposable razors, there’s something to be said for a heightened awareness of the environment and society’s collective shift in attitude.

“Obviously each individual person’s use of disposable razors is not going to be the straw that broke the camel’s back in terms of where something is suddenly a crisis. Each person is not creating that much waste,” Hoover said. “But every person together adds up.”

Hoover also noted that being more aware of our wasteful consumption is important. When shopping for products, she suggested asking yourself, “What’s the environmental impact?” along with the typical questions you’d normally consider, like how much something costs and whether you need it.

“I think we have to look at that as part of the overall culture and crisis of disposable plastic items. We keep making more and more things from plastic, which is a nonrenewable fossil fuel-derived material, and then we keep using these things once and throwing them in a landfill,” Hoover said. “It’s ludicrous and outdated at this point to continue to use this nonrenewable fossil fuel-derived material to make products that are used once and thrown away.”

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