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The Ecologically-Attuned Shaver: Turning the Tide

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Let’s pretend you are a research scientist (and shaving aficionado, of course!) committed to living in an enclosed biosphere for several years. You start the experiment with a given amount of supplies. Then you seal up the living space and must generate all subsequent food and supplies within the biosphere. Likewise, all your waste must stay in your living space.

A Key Question

Given the limited resources including limited space for both storing supplies and waste products, would you be inclined to store disposable products both before and after use, or would you tend to use more durable or more organic products that can be reused indefinitely or easily recycled into something else useful?

Assuming you are clear headed as you read this, the obvious answer is that you would use products that are durable and don’t require frequent (or ever) replacement. Also, you would use products that generate minimal waste and, preferably, any waste would be useful in some other way such as acting as fertilizer, or at least would degrade into harmless, unobtrusive constituent chemicals.

A Key Reality

You, along with about seven billion other humans, do live in an enclosed biosphere – and not just for a year or two – it’s forever. The biosphere is called Earth. Years ago, early in my lifetime, educated persons still believed that the Earth was so large that there was an unlimited amount of fresh air, clean water, and unspoiled land. As a consequence, they also believed that the Earth could not be significantly negatively impacted by human activity.

Of course, educated persons now know differently. Our essentially-closed biosphere is filling up with unwanted chemicals such as carbon dioxide and methane, which are negatively impacting the world climate. Mercury and acid rain are contaminating our lakes and oceans – and as a result, the animals and food sources that live there. Our unending streams of waste including disposable products such as plastic razors, used blades, empty foam and gel cans, and the like are being dumped in oceans or buried in great mounds of refuse (formerly called landfills).

In essence, our existence is similar to that of yeast in a bottle of wine, although the life cycle of our species is measured in thousands of years rather than the days or weeks of the colonies of yeast in wine. We both exist in a closed biosphere. We both flourish and multiply for a time. Then we use up our resources turning them into eventually-inescapable waste, and then…. well, the yeast dies. What happens to us is yet to be revealed, and we still may have some influence in the matter.

A Suggestion, a Thought….

Yeast has no thought process. Yeast has no ability to observe and react. Maybe, ultimately, the human race as a whole doesn’t either; maybe we’re ultimately doomed due to our own collective lack of awareness, our short-sighted lack of concern for those who come after us.  However, I’d prefer to suggest that we may be able to turn the tide and flourish indefinitely through thoughtful collective forward-thinking action.

You’re (Likely) Already on the Right Track

The easiest thing for an ecologically-attuned shaving enthusiast to do is to get off the can – the shaving foam or gel can, that is. The best solution from an ecological perspective is a shave soap or cream that is packaged in recyclable paper, plastic, metal or cardboard packaging. Unfortunately some products are packaged in containers that are only disposable such as plastic tubes that are not labeled with the type of plastic – thus rendering them not recyclable.

Many readers of this website have likely already taken this step. Similarly, many readers are using double-edge (DE) razors, which are long-lasting instruments that only require blade replacement.

Great! But what is done with the replaceable blades? Thrown in the trash to end up buried in Mount Trashmore? Or thoughtfully packaged in a safe steel container that, when full, can be recycled and turned into something useful?

Are you using a barber’s straight razor with its replaceable blade? Okay, but like the DE user, are you recycling or are you contributing to the useless waste stream?

Further, are you getting as many shaves as possible from your replaceable blades? When you stretch the number of shaves from a blade, no, you don’t personally save much money (but you do save nonetheless!). It is in the aggregate that impact is achieved – even though you may not personally see it. If a million blades are replaced each day instead of three million, that’s two million less blades that are bound for the complete waste of landfill burial or the lower-cost (compared to the landfill) of the recycling facility.

Things you can do to increase your blade life include the following:

  • Dry your replaceable blades after each shave. Even though they’re stainless steel, they can invisibly corrode at the edge, which limits their sharpness and comfort. An alternative to drying is to immerse them in pure alcohol. Also a coating of oil or immersion in oil after water removal also discourages edge micro-corrosion.
  • Strop your replaceable blades on your palm or arm. This helps to dry the edge as well as straighten some of the shave-inflicted damage.
  • Learn and use oblique-stroking technique. Oblique strokes are when the direction of the shaving stroke is not quite perpendicular to the blade edge. These skewed strokes make an edge effectively sharper, and can make an older blade shave better and more comfortably.

DE Versus Barber Straight for Most Ecologically Friendly

A safety razor, because of its degree of protection from the leading edge, generally offers more shaves per edge than a barber razor. For example, I can typically get three or four shaves from a half-DE blade in my barber straight. Yet I can easily get ten to 20 shaves from a DE blade in my safety razors, which works out to five to ten shaves per edge. Therefore, a safety razor is going to use fewer blades per year than a barber straight.

However, if you’re a determined one-and-done shaver – that is, using a given blade for only one shave – then the barber straight will be more ecologically responsible because you’re getting one shave per edge versus only one-half shave per edge with the DE blade.

The Ecological Shaver’s Favored Razor

The traditional straight razor is going to be the weapon of choice for the uber-focused ecologically-attuned shaver. He will pair this nothing-to-dispose-of razor with an eco-friendly-packaged soap. The net result is nothing goes into the landfill and there isn’t even much to recycle: just the occasional soap packaging. Any other shave by-products are just lather and stubble – both biodegradable.

The Most Overlooked Ecological Cost

The price we pay for an item usually does not include its total cost.

Huh, you might ask?

Okay, an example might be helpful. Let’s say you go to your favorite discount department store and buy a super-cheap product that the retailer has bought via hard-nosed negotiating tactics with an off-shore manufacturer. The manufacturer may be able to offer super-cheap pricing in large volume to the retailer because their employment policies aren’t policed by their government. They may be able to use child labor or make their workers work long hours without the additional compensation required by western countries.

These practices are costs that are paid in terms of human suffering. You don’t pay them, but someone else does. They are a hidden cost of buying products from such manufacturers and sellers.

Similarly, when offshore-produced products are shipped to you, although you pay your portion of the transportation costs such as fuel and transportation-worker wages, there’s another hidden cost. This is the pollution that the transportation method(s) generate. It’s another real cost, but again, not really paid (much) by you. Instead it becomes a burden that is endured by all the inhabitants of the planet, human, animal, and vegetable – and much of which ultimately adds to the total hidden human cost.

Summary of Options

So what can you do to reduce your ecological footprint?

  1. Get off the can, get on the puck. Use shave soap with minimal and recyclable packaging. Of course, this will best be paired with a shave brush that is of sufficient quality that it will last a long time.
  2. Use a long-lasting razor, not a disposable.
    1. A traditional straight razor will generate the least waste.
    2. Recycle blades from replaceable-blade razors such as DEs or barber straights.
    3. DE razors may offer more shaves per blade edge, thus reducing the waste burden.
  3. Pay attention (whenever possible) to shipping distances and methods as well as the production and staffing practices of manufacturers. Better choices will minimize hidden costs that are borne by all.
  4. Apply this kind of awareness and analysis to everything you do or buy, not just shaving gear.

Be better than yeast. 😉 Think of others including the generations to come. Enjoy your life and your choices, but enjoy responsibly.
Happy shaving!

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Doug Hansford

Doug Hansford

7 thoughts on “The Ecologically-Attuned Shaver: Turning the Tide”

  1. All of this is the truth but what if you have to travel? Out cannot take a DE or straight razor on a airplane or TSA will take it away as a weapon.

  2. It would make a lot of sense if all items were licensed and made to order where needed. But this will never be the case… hence I live in Holland and shave with a Dutch soap (scheermonnik) an American oneblade using Japanese feather blades, an Chinese qshave using polish Pol silver blades, an Indian made Parker variant with a Russian vodshkod blade a South American grooming co brush (purchased in the states because no longer available overhere) Italian made prororaso pre shaves, various Italian made shaving soaps an American van yulay shave bowl. Butbut I use Dutch water and keep the trash over here 😉 sooo please license everything to locals happy to pay less import duties and transport costs with a green smile of my wallet

  3. Lots of good suggestions here, but I hasten to take issue with the idea of drying, lubricating, or stropping DE razor blades. If you handle razor blades (other than to change them) I can promise that you will eventually cut yourself. DE blades are cheap, small, and contribute an insignificant amount to our waste steam. Remember that these things are very sharp! Why risk injury for a barely quantifiable benefit? There are many other less risky ways to improve our environment.

    1. Ha Ha, I’ve been press drying and palm stropping my DE and half-DE blades for years without a scratch. But then my mom doesn’t cut up my food at dinner either. 😉

    2. Brian Fiori (AKA The Dean)

      I remove the blade and dab-dry it after every shave. I hand strop it before every shave. Been doing this for years and I have never cut myself.
      With that said, I don’t do this to extend the life of my blade. Just to assure the shaves I get with it are the best they can be. But I believe you are correct. Blades are cheap and their contribution to our serious ecological issues are negligible.

  4. What a wonderful and wise article. We (U.S. consumers) are shielded from the consequences of our purchases, and there is a cost to that ignorance. I am happily surprised to being reminded of this in your site.
    Don’t be yeast!
    Using a Mach 3 that I haven’t changed the blade for about 9 months because I am a cheapskate.
    Have a vintage straight razor and a Japanese blade, lookong forward to using them but need a strop. Will gave to reconsider my shopping choice for it after reading your article.
    Thank you

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