What’s Greener: An Electric Razor or A Disposable One?

I recently heard a CBC interview (MP3) with Vanessa Farquharson. Have I already mentioned her around here? Apparently not.

She’s been spending the last year making one environmentally-friendly change to her life each day. She’s been blogging about her experience, writing a column in the National Post, and has a forthcoming book.

On a related note, the CBC opted not to specify that Ms. Farquharson was a journalist. For some inexplicable reason, that felt ingenuine (screw you, I’m using it).

Mach 3 or Plugged In?

I was shaving yesterday, and thinking about green choices. Staring at my razor blade, I wondered which was the greener option: an electric razor or one with disposable blades?

To compare, we need to think about all the factors that contribute to the manufacturing, shipping, usage and disposal of each technology.

For the average Gilette Mach 3, we need to consider:

  • The environmental costs and energy usage of manufacturing the razor shafts, disposable razors and shaving cream. I use a shaving brush, too.
  • The fuel consumed during shipping to stores.
  • The waste generated in packaging.
  • The water used during shaving. I probably shave 300 days out of the year, and use, maybe, 750 ml of water each time. If I shave for, say, 65 years, that’s 91 oil drums of water. Or, if you like, 15 hot tubs worth of water. Just on shaving. That’s depressing.
  • The energy used to heat the water.
  • Cost of disposal, including the fuel consumed to transport the discarded razors and shaving cream containers. More importantly, how long will the plastic bits hang around?

There’s a similar, though shorter list for an electric razor:

  • Manufacturing the razor.
  • Shipping it to the store.
  • Electricity used in powering the razor over its lifetime.
  • Disposal of the razor.

Which is the greener option? I have no idea. It’s an easy thought experiment, but practically speaking, a remarkably difficult thing to figure out. Environmental impact is measured in lots of ways: energy consumed, ecosystems impacted, pollution, and so forth. The first problem that I can see is that there’s no common currency for all of these factors.

Thinking about this stuff is, admittedly, one of those things that white people like to do. Still, I can imagine a good blog entitled “What’s Greener” that asks and answers these questions about small, everyday items like razors.

For the record, the greenest shaving option is to just let that mofo grow. The next greenest is to use an old school straight-razor (no ivory handle, thanks very much). I’ve never had the pleasure–are they difficult to use?

UPDATE: Elijah points out in the comments that there’s already a blog by Grist on this very subject. Handy.


  1. Grist’s “Ask Umbra” is just the blog you’re looking for. Each week she takes a consumer question and does the ugly math on our behalf. But Umbra also reminds us that obsessing over small, low-impact decisions (like paper vs. plastic bags) distract us from looking closely at the bigger decisions (it doesn’t matter what kind of bag you use if you drive to the grocery store.) http://www.grist.org/advice/ask/2002/06/04/umbra-grocerybags/

    Still, the mental games are fun!

  2. Don’t forget that they now have wet shave electric razors, so throw those elements back into the mix for that option as well 😉

    I have an old straight razor that needs some desperate rehoning before it’s suitable for shaving. Getting it rehoned and then also getting a strop and strop lubricant, etc. is part of what’s put me off from actually doing it (I’m a great procrastinator). From what I’ve gleaned it’s not horribly difficult to use a straight razor, but it does require a certain amount of equipment and you have to learn the technique both of shaving, but also of sharpening the blade on the strop (which should be done before each shave).

    In the meantime, though, I’ve started using shaving soap and a brush instead of canned shaving cream. Easy to use, economical (the soap lasts a hell of a long time), the brush does a fantastic job and I’ve gotten no end of compliments on the scent of the soap 🙂

  3. I swear by my double edge safety razor. It’s cheep to replace the blades, and I’m completely guessing – slightly greener too.

  4. I think it was one of your earlier posts, one of the first I read that spoke about shaving. Anyway, I have stopped using shaving cream altogether for the past year at least if not longer. Using a Mach 3 and some water things seem to work just as well and have less impact then using the cream filled cannisters.

  5. Far better to worry about the impact of your soap. Buy a brush. I’m a potter, my wife is a soap-maker, and together we sell little teacups filled with shaving soap.

    If you’re really concerned, go talk to josh. It’s irrelevant to worry about the greenness of your two choices when there’s a third choice which is obviously FAR greener.

  6. I was convinced to go to the “safety razor” format a couple years ago as well. Blades are way, way cheaper than the fancy multi-blade mach3’s, etc, and I think final sale price is likely an indicator of resources used to manufacture it. At the same time I went from using shaving cream to just a bar of glycerin soap and shaving in the shower with an anti-fog mirror. It was a win-win-win-win IMO: Better shaves. Quicker. Cheaper. Less impact.

    For me it started with this article: http://www.lewrockwell.com/tucker/tucker65.html

    As Mark #2 said, my guess is that getting rid of the shaving cream canisters would be a much larger “win” than choice of razor blade.

    -Mark (#3)

  7. I use a Gillette Fusion. I’ve been on the same disposable razor head since Dec 2. How?

    I read that it’s the water left on the blade after shaving that’s the real cause for the blade going dull. So, I’ve been thoroughly drying the blade and rinsing it in alcohol every morning. I’ve yet to have to change it as it’s still going strong.

    So through that option into the mix as well!

  8. Strangely enough, as a woman, I had to consider this question when deciding whether I should purchase my husband yet another electric shaver for the third time in 12 years we’ve been together. We’ve been trying to make greener choices and this one came up recently and we went with the electric shaver.

    Short of waxing, which I think is the most environmental way to go, as it slows down hair growth even more, using a straight razor is not for every one. I learned years ago as a district manager of a large retailer that sold straight razor among other things. Although not impossible, it’s a tough thing to learn to do.

    One of the very first things we avoid in order to be greener is all disposable products. When I first moved to North America as an adolescent nearly 24 years ago I was astounded by the shear waste I saw in this country. As a child of war time in the Middle East I recall how we had to ration everything down to paper we had to use at school.

    Waste is considered a sin in most religions and although I’m a non-believer I see the practical reasons behind wasteful behaviour. OF course some of the changes we can make have lesser impact than others. But it’s a matter of avoiding things that are disposable as we live in a disposable environment. One of the direct causes of this disposable society is a response to the working couples in a single household. In order to make more time for watching more television I imagine. Advertising of disposable products blows my mind at times. Disposable food containers, to disposable cleaning agents to disposable appliances.
    A very scary law we came across last year in fixing our nearly new General Electric stove was that major appliance manufacturers in Canada are no longer required to make parts for their products. We had to dispose our nearly new stove for another one because they did not make the glass top that had cracked. An electric shaver is a relatively small problem compared to a massive stove that most likely will end up on our landfills.

  9. The true green thing to do would be just not shave. that way you wont have to worry about recycling your hair or the affects of soap or your razor. A ton of companies like the ones listed in http://www.greencollareconomy.com are going for a sustainable supply chain throughout the manufacturing process and eventually you won’t even have to worry about which option is greener.

  10. I too, took the challange. I bought a Schick Quatro disposable after hearing the dry it it time after use theory by some guy on Good Morning America. I started with the first shave of 2008, and it’s now the middle of August and still going strong.

  11. You can also buy a sharpener for disposable razor. It’s electric but a very simple mechanism and each disposable can be resharpened 200 times!

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