120 years ago a small town US salesman soaped his face to begin his daily shave with a cut throat razor whilst pondering whether there might be an easier way to shave. The salesman was King Camp Gillette and he would go on to invent one of the world’s most successful products – the safety razor.  Without the need for sharpening, the new ultra thin disposable blades were a revolution and in just 3 years, millions of blades were being sold.  The Gillette safety razor even became standard issue army kit through both world wars and it still exists today in almost identical form – so why do so few people use them?

One word answer – Plastic

Within every business there is the need to be innovative and cutting edge (excuse the pun) and Gillette was no exception. In 1971 the twin bladed Trac II was launched and thus began our love affair with the plastic disposable razor.

Since the 70s razors have become a marketing dream – “let’s add another blade, a lubricating strip, another blade, a moving head, another blade, rubber gills, another blade, a flexball, another blade… ”  And with the exciting new invention of female legs, women started to shave too – great! Lets make them pink, sparkly, contoured and ridiculously overpriced – and as consumers we have been reeled in; hook, line and sinker.

Right now in the US it is estimated that 2 billion razors and blades are disposed of every year and because they are a complex mix of plastic, metal, rubber and other materials they cannot be recycled.  I cannot even fathom how many that is around the world.

So what exactly is a safety razor?

It is, quite frankly, a thing of timeless beauty and design, but that is not a very good explanation.  It is a razor with a heavy metal head that comes apart for you to insert a disposable razor blade.  The blade is sandwiched between two plates so that only a very fine edge is showing. The head is mounted on a metal handle which usually screws into the base of the head to hold the plates together (there are some alternative safety razors which have a butterfly opening top and so the handle is fixed).

Double Edge Safety razor

Are they safe?

Absolutely, but you must respect them.  Ask yourself, have I ever cut myself with a disposable razor? The answer is almost certainly, yes. The reason for this is that disposables come with a false sense of security, you carelessly whizz them over your legs or ‘have a quick shave’ as my dad always says.

By simply picking up a safety razor you know that you will not be using it in the same slap-dash way. Like a disposable, you may well cut yourself, but you may also not – that’s up to you.

Are they difficult to use?

Not at all.  But there is a difference to your technique. Here are some simple rules:

  1.  Lather up – you can use traditional shaving cream or if you are into the retro / eco friendly lifestyle why not opt for a shaving soap and brush?
  2.  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.
  3. 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.
  4. Take your time – try not to rush the job, it is better to be hairy than scary – no one likes cleaning a bloody bathroom.

If you are in any doubt I would suggest a look on YouTube as there is a wealth of info our there.

Shave ‘n’ save

There are a lot of added bonuses that come with using a safety razor – firstly, you get a REALLY good shave and although there is an initial outlay for the razor you won’t believe how cheap they are to run – Gillette Mach3 blades come in at around £1.50 each, safety razor blades are just 20p each – and they have two edges!

Love those savings? Then add on the environmental benefits – you save a whole bunch of plastic; no more packaging and no more razor heads or plastic handles.

It was just this week that I came across this heartbreaking picture of an oyster catcher starved to death with a disposable razor blade stuck on its beak  (Photographed by Ken Carder by the River Orwell in Kent) and Newquay Beachcombing reported on twitter that it is not uncommon to find handfuls of disposable razor blades every week whilst combing the beautiful Cornish coast.

Do you really need any more incentives than that to make the switch?

Oystercatcher starved to death by disposable razor blade

Photograph by Newquay Beachcombing @newquaybeach 

How do I dispose of razor blades?

This is a very good question.  Being made of steel, razor blades are certainly recyclable, however a lot of council recycling collections do not allow them because of the danger it imposes on their staff if they are put loose in the recycling bin.  There are ways you can store them for recycling so there is absolutely no way they will escape and endanger anyone.

One such way is to purchase or make a blade bank.  Like a money box this is a metal container with a thin slot for the blade to go in – however unlike the trusty piggy bank – it is a one way journey, there is no way to get them out again.

The video here shows my pudgy hands crafting such a bank with a small evaporated milk tin (you can use a tin of any thin liquid that will come out of a slot).  You can either put this in your recycling or take it to a waste management facility…. either way you have about 10 years to decided as it will take that long to fill the tin – so we might have better recycling or be living on mars by then.

6 Comments. Leave new

  • This is exactly what we need – more plastic free shaving products. We have launched a range of plastic free shaving products to complement razors such as these. Take a look at http://www.kairn.co.uk

  • Loved reading your post. I’ve been doing some research on recycling the razors and I wish there was an easier way we can recycle it! Thank you for a great tip on blade bank. I might give it a go!

  • Mike Barton
    March 1, 2019 2:02 pm

    This has been really helpful. I’ve just started shaving with a safety razor for all the reasons you give and wondered how to recycle the blades. We shall use a can as you suggest. My shaving process has also become much cheaper as a result of my switch. It’s not too hard to use the razor either and, as you say, YouTube has tons of good advice. Everyone’s a winner including the planet!!!

  • I used these when I was in the army and have just gone back to them. It just feels like a better shave and is better for the environment. Great idea for recycling.

  • Most blade-shavers use stainless blades made of very high quality steel and they know to store used blades safely for disposal. My point is that the steel, in volume, must have a value because of its purity and quality – why has no-one set up a collection point for used blades? it could be as simple as supplying cardboard collection boxes with new blade sales, each with a freepost label printed on the base for when the box is full.

  • Thanks for the recycling tin method; I have been able to make one! The only thing I was unclear about was why you had a magnet? Was that to make sure the tin was recyclable metal?


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