spotlight on RAZORS

spotlight on RAZORS

Tracey Banks

The Razor

What’s the problem?

Disposable razors are one of the bathroom’s biggest waste items – being made of many different materials, including plastic, steel and rubber they cannot be recycled. Even the ones where you only replace the razor head are wasteful because the razor heads are made and packaged with plastic.

Although technically not ‘single-use’, it’s the disposability that’s the problem.

According to a survey by, 60.7 million razors and blade products were sold in UK in 2017 – which means 60.7 million plastic items ultimately thrown away to become landfill waste and then microplastic pollution. That was just in 2017, just in UK. There’s no figure available for global consumption of disposable razors and blades. And then there’s the fact the plastic disposable razor was launched by Gillette in 1971 nearly 50 years ago…the mind boggles on how many billions are festering in landfill sites worldwide.

The thing is, the solution to this problem predates disposable razors: safety razor - sturdy, reusable razors you might have seen your grandfather use at one time. The only part you replace is the metal razor blade itself, which is recyclable.

So how did we get here?

Razors can be traced back to the Bronze Age. The first modern straight razor complete with decorated handles and hollow ground blades was constructed in Sheffield in the 18th and 19th centuries used by servants of the wealthy or in barber shops. Daily shaving was not widespread until WW1 when American soldiers were required to shave daily so their gas masks would fit properly and this became much easier with the advent of the safety razor, which was standard issue during the war. (Wikipedia)

It was King C. Gillette who, in 1901, was the first to manufacture a double-edged safety razor with replaceable blades. Unlike the single blade, the new thin disposable blades did not need sharpening and were a revolution.
In 1960, stainless steel blades became available, first made by Wilkinson in Sheffield. These could be used more than once thus reducing the cost of safety-razor shaving. Then in 1970, Wilkinson introduced the cartridge model embedded a single blade in a disposable polymer plastic cartridge to reduce the risk of injury from handling razor blades.

In 1974, another now-familiar razor brand, Bic introduced the now-ubiquitous disposable razor. Instead of just the blade, the entire razor was designed to be disposable.

The rest is a history…a story of market and consumer capitalisation culminating in today’s multi-billion dollar industry which has continually found ways to release new models for ‘a better quality shave’.

Whilst the latter is debatable, the 50 years of needless waste is undeniable. Can this industry continue to justify their disposable products and ignore the permanent impact on our planet? Especially when a perfectly good alternative exists…in their back catalogue!

So what is a safety razor anyway?

Questions: Why is a safety razor called ‘safety’ when the common perspective is that it is the more dangerous than a disposable razor?

Answer: Because it was the first step towards a ‘safer-to-use’ razor by adding a protective guard to a regular straight razor, way back in 1901.

Essentially, a safety razor has a heavy metal head which comes apart to insert the disposable razor blade.  The blade is sandwiched between two plates so that only a very fine edge is showing. The handle usually screws into the base of the head to hold the plates together.

From a ‘safety’ perspective, disposables come with a false sense of security, with your skin protected from the angled blades and the cartridge, you can afford careless speed and pressure. No slap-dash ways allowed with the safety razor – it demands respectful use due to the exposed blade directly touching the skin.

However, like a disposable, whether you cut yourself or not, depends on how carefully you use it.


Lather up – opt for a shaving soap instead of traditional shaving cream

Find your angle – unlike a disposable which is a very flat-to-the-skin approach, you need to shave at about 20 -30 degrees – so the handle is more in the air. The metal head is usually curved so you can rotate it to find the sweet spot.

No Pressure – whatever you do don’t press down on the head.  The weight of the head alone is enough.   If you do press down you are likely to scrape your skin.

Take your time – try not to rush the job, it is better to be hairy than scary – no one likes cleaning a bloody bathroom.


Good shave - double edge razor blades are sharper and shave closer than modern multi-blade cartridges.
Less lifetime cost - after initial outlay, cheap they are to run – cartridge blades come in at around £1.50 each, safety razor blades are just 20p each – and they have two edges!
Less waste - you save a whole bunch of plastic; no more packaging and no more razor heads or plastic handles; blades are recyclable

Recycling sharp blades – how?

That is the question. Although made of highly-recyclable steel,  being made of steel, a lot of council recycling collections (North Hertfordshire included) do not allow them in the recycling bin. However, there are ways you can store them up for safe recycling – for example in a home-made or purchased ‘blade bank’. This is a metal container with a thin slot for the blade to go in (not out) and you recycle the whole tin once full. You can either put this in your recycling or take it to a waste management facility…. either way you have a few years to decide (as it will take that long to fill the tin

Still got some disposables to use?

The recycling company TerraCycle and Gillette launched a razor recycling programme in the UK in August this year. So if you've been hoarding all your old disposable razors for fear of sending them to landfill, or you still have a stash of disposables to use, this is the option for you.

The new recycling initiative is available via the Gillette website ( by filling out your details to receive a special freepost envelope for your used blades and razors.

Customers will need to be 18 or over to use the service, with each customer limited to four envelopes per year. Each envelope can hold up to 16 products and, crucially, TerraCycle will accept razors and blades from all brands sold in the UK. 

Once at the TerraCycle facility, the razors will be broken down and separated into plastics and metals. Plastics will be cleaned, melted and formed into pellets ready for inclusion in new products, while metals will be sent for smelting into new alloys. Such alloys are commonly used to make products for the transport and technology sectors.

So what are the other alternatives?

Electric shavers

Costs you more up front, but it pays for itself in just a few months, and you can shave without any gel, cream, or lotion. Also, there is the added bonus of reducing the amount of water you use.

Just don’t shave!

Choose hairy!

Why not join in No Shave November  and fundraise for cancer research? Don’t spend money on your shaving routine, and instead donate that cash to charity for people who lose their hair in chemotherapy.

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