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The size and penetration of the market for razors and razor blades is astounding. Gillette claims to have a hold on the shaving market for some 750 million men worldwide. I think the number I saw recently was that P&G’s behemoth brand held something like 50% of the market share for shaving, which is astounding. That leaves the rest of the pie open for companies like Schick and other fresh upstarts like Dollar Shave Club (Dorco) to fuddle around.
But, if we do some simple calculations, we might be somewhat disturbed by what this means for the environment.
If, by the numbers above, some 1.5 billion men (excluding women for the purposes of this discussion) are shaving even twice a week, they are likely replacing razors at least once or twice a month.
These are conservative assumptions.
That’s a minimum of 1.5 billion razor blade cartridges disposed of on a monthly basis. Where are all of these cartridges going? Landfills? Incinerators? Until recently, the majority of disposable razors and cartridge heads have been going to landfills simply because they couldn’t be recycled.
Recycling is a global profit-driven industry
We think of recycling as a way to help the planet, but it’s also a global commodity. Recycled materials are sold for prices that fluctuate based on demand. For instance, in 2011, the value of a recycled soda bottle made from PET plastic skyrocketed due to an increase in demand.
What caused that demand? Slate reports that Pakistan suffered devastating monsoons the year prior, flooding the Indus river and driving the price of cotton to the highest it’s been since 1870. Cotton jeans would cost more to manufacture so Chinese manufacturers used polyester fibers from recycled PET plastic as a cost-effective alternative to cotton.
Recycling used razors isn’t profitable
Recycling disposable razors is possible, but unlike soda bottles it’s not profitable for recycling centers. There’s no demand for the recycled materials. Recycling centers can’t recover the cost of processing by selling the materials. That’s the real reason disposable razors are banned from curbside recycling bins.
Darby Hoover, senior resource specialist of food and agriculture at the Natural Resources Defense Council told HuffPost, “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.” The downside? Some razor handles are made of plastic and rubber fused together, which makes the handle non-recyclable. Even if the materials could be separated, it’s too much work for the consumer.
As of 2019, recycling disposable razors is possible worldwide
The world isn’t ready for a curbside razor recycling program, but the new partnership between Gillette and TerraCycle comes close. TerraCycle is an organization that recycles “un-recyclable” items, including razors. The partnership between Gillette and TerraCycle allows consumers to mail in their used razors and blades of any brand to be recycled.
Surprisingly, the whole razor gets recycled including the blade. Gillette says once razors are broken down and separated by material, “metal materials are sent for smelting and conversion to new alloys.” This is a big step for razor recycling, since used blades have always been seen as non-recyclable. In fact, in decades past, people disposed of used razor blades in their walls because they didn’t know what else to do with the blades.
Although Gillette’s new partnership is a step in the right direction for the environment, the program’s success relies on consumers’ willingness to do the work and send in their razors.
Let’s be clear, I’m not some tree hugging hippie, but the scale at which we’re tossing away razors cannot be good for the environment. Even if Gillette manages to convince 90% of consumers to mail in their used razors, it can’t be that environmentally-friendly to process billions of razors for recycling. It’s time to go back to traditional shaving with a classic safety razor.
Safety razors are 100% environmentally-friendly
Safety razor blades end up as waste just like disposable blades and cartridge heads. However, safety razor blades don’t require extensive processing to recycle. And now you can send them all to Gillette.
Did I mention they cost 500% less than the best competing cartridge blades?
Do the environment a small favor and start shaving like a real man with a safety razor.