A consistent theme in the Encyclopedia of Consumption and Waste: The Social Science of Garbage is the proliferation of single-use plastic goods and packaging over the past half century. These goods are affordable if we only consider the price at the cash register and not the long-term effects they may have on ecosystems. As Skye Moody’s entry on Société BIC discusses, these effects are considerable.
The disposable razor, the disposable pen, and the disposable lighter are iconic symbols of waste. Société BIC pioneered the manufacture and sale of these cheap, mass-consumer products in the second half of the 20th century. In the early 21st century, billions of discarded plastic pens, butane lighters, and personal shavers appear in landfills, litter public land, and wash up onto the world’s beaches, their petroleum-based plastic content augmenting the worldwide accumulation of toxic waste. Société BIC has developed life-cycle assessments of its products, but the continued disposability of its product line encourages consumers to damage ecosystems across the globe with plastic waste.
Millions of consumers use these products. For years, I was one. Fearful of hacking my face with a safety razor, I used disposable blades housed in plastic bodies, and threw them out with the rest of my garbage.
This spring, buoyed by multiple endorsements on the Electrical Audio forum (a community having one of its amazing bbq events this weekend), I purchased a Merkur Futur safety razor, set of blades, shaving cream and a badger brush. The Merkur Futur is easy to set up, and adjusting the angle of the blade is straightforward. Worried about a bloodbath, I slowly touched the blade to my cheek. The blade felt more prominent than I was used to with disposables, and I was cautious as I lightly dragged it down. Gradually, I got used to the sensitivity, and have not cut myself with any more frequency than I had with disposables. Learning the technique of several shorter strokes combined with hot water, I now get closer shaves than I did before.
I have much less waste now. Each side of the double-edged blades gets me a good week’s worth of daily shaves. Once every two weeks, I place the old blade in an old tomato paste can with a slot in the lid. By my estimate, I will fill the can sometime near the end of 2014. In the time between purchasing the Merkur Futur and filling that can, I would have used about 80 disposable razors.
The initial cost of the Futur (with brush, blades, and cream, about $100) was more than I usually spent at one time on disposables (about $15 for a dozen), but over a prolonged period of use, I will save money. The blades I now use cost about 50 cents apiece, less than half of what I had been spending on disposables. Within two years, the investment should pay off.
This fall, I’ll teach another section of SUST 405 Production, Consumption, and Waste. One of the assignments I give in that course is a personal waste inventory, a useful way to become aware of how systems of production and disposal shape the options individuals have in deciding what to use. Through past inventories, I have been aware of my disposal of razors, and I am glad that the availability of good safety razors allows me an alternative to plastic-encased razors. Furthermore, this alternative is superior. I get a better shave than I did before, and I produce less waste than I did before. Committing to use a safety razor is a better result for my face, for my wallet, and for the environment. It’s a more sustainable way to shave.