Measuring the Carbon Footprint of Disposable Razors: Impact on the Environment

Georgette Kilgore headshot, wearing 8 Billion Trees shirt with forest in the background.Written by Georgette Kilgore

Carbon Offsets Credits | May 2, 2024

Man shaving wonders about the carbon footprint of disposable razors thinking how is it measured and is there a way to calculate plastic razor emissions or the number of razors used each year?

Suppose you want to know the carbon footprint of disposable razors, as well as all of the updated and accompanying information that points to what causes emissions from disposable razors?

Have you ever thought about it?

The disposable items we use in every day life have a big impact on the pollution created around the world, and disposable razors are included.

The United States government and the corporate officers that head the largest companies that manufacture disposable razors all publicly acknowledge that they do not keep track of the carbon footprint data metrics of disposable razor products.1

According to a 1990 EPA-produced consumer guidebook on the environmental impact of disposable razors,2 the EPA estimated that Americans alone threw away over 2 billion disposable razors annually.

As of the publishing of this article over 34 years later, the EPA nor the major disposable razor companies have updated this data. The EPA publicly stated in 2019 that it stopped keeping track of this data and has no plans to update it.1

Depending on the consumer estimates you believe, over 158 million Americans used disposable razors as a near-daily consumer product in 2020; that estimate is projected to surge to 160.1 million Americans depending on disposable razors for their daily grooming needs in 2024.3

Why is there no verifiable regularly updated data on the carbon footprint of disposable razors? Who can say?

What is known is that the industry is extremely profitable; the global disposable razor industry was estimated to be worth over $3.3 billion in 2019; and that valuation is projected to surge to over $4.3 billion by 2027.4

But, just because there’s no official information, doesn’t mean we can’t figure out the approximate carbon footprint of disposable razors so that you can learn how to offset those emissions and help the planet.

The Carbon Footprint of Disposable Razors

By using some very basic metrics on how long can you use disposable razors, how often you use them, and how often you shave, we can estimate the average use generates a carbon footprint of about 16 pounds of carbon dioxide annually.5

It must be stressed that this is an extremely generalized metric relative to the carbon footprint of disposable razors and cannot be relied upon as an industry metric.

But, how do we come up with that number?

By understanding the manufacturing, packaging and disposal emissions created by this common product.

Graphic of the carbon footprint calculation of disposable razors, showing industrial emissions, a man shaving, and razors being thrown away, highlighting that over 60% of carbon footprint occurs during manufacturing and shipping, one use emits about 43 grams of CO2, and over 2 billion razors are discarded yearly in the U.S.

To go deeper on this generalized estimate, learn how to reduce your carbon footprint with disposable razors, and in general, you first need to learn more about disposable razors, carbon footprints, and how to calculate carbon footprint manually.

What Is a Carbon Footprint?

What is a carbon footprint? A carbon footprint calculation is the direct or indirect generation of greenhouse gasses,6 like methane, nitrous oxide, or carbon dioxide, through the actions or inactions of an individual, company, event, or the manufacturing and processing of products.

For example, almost every American household generates over 48 tons of carbon dioxide through its activities annually.6

It is important to understand that a carbon emissions calculator is usually based on the number of work hours, fuel, and waste exerted or created from the starting point and last mile life cycle in creating, manufacturing, delivering, and throwing away a product.

Disposable Razors: Calculating the Carbon Footprint

Are disposable razors better for the environment? The answer is probably not, especially if Americans throw over 2 billion of them into the environment annually.

Before talking about the carbon footprint of disposable razors, you need to at least understand the basics of the disposable razor.

Plastic Razors

Most of the publicly available data to calculate the carbon footprint of disposable razors comes from a few corporate companies that strategically choose to release the life cycle metrics of some of their razor product lines.5

One disposable and non-recyclable plastic razor generally creates 43 grams or 0.095 pounds of carbon dioxide per use.5

Although most consumers use disposable plastic razors as a single-use product, most corporate disposable razor companies claim that you can use one for up to 10 times before the blade becomes blunted or dull. (of course, that depends on the type of shaving you do.)

A blue disposable razor with a white handle lies diagonally on a textured white fabric surface.

(Image: Rigby4017)

So, if you use one disposable plastic razor at least 10 times before throwing it away, then you will generate at least a 2.5-pound carbon footprint annually.

However, if you use running hot water while you shave, the carbon footprint of using all that hot water generates a carbon footprint of over 13.5 pounds.5

So, if you use a disposable plastic razor at least 10 times per purchase along with hot water, then your annual carbon footprint is at least 16 pounds. Still, this is an extremely generalized metric that was derived from the data of one specialized plastic razor product.5

No one knows for sure what the exact carbon footprint of disposable razors is, and the exact number might be startling. By some metrics, the typical consumer only generates 40 percent of the carbon footprint life cycle of a disposable razor product through consumption.5

In other words, over 60 percent of the life cycle carbon footprint that was generated to manufacture and ship the razor was created long before a consumer like you even purchases it.5

There are ways to extrapolate such information since the primary components in a disposable razor product are metal and to a higher degree, plastic.

Based on public data, the entire planet generates a 1.8 billion ton carbon footprint via the annual manufacturing of plastic; and that estimate does not account for all of the plastic currently in the environment that could take hundreds or thousands of years to degrade naturally.7

Over 2 billion tons of steel, metal, and alloy products are manufactured globally every year and are also responsible for over 40 percent of the greenhouse gasses generated by global industrialization annually.8

Since both steel and plastic are the primary components in disposable plastic razor products, it’s logical to surmise that the carbon footprint of disposable razors is probably a lot higher than any generalized calculation can theorize.

How Long Do Disposable Razors Last?

Many consumers use disposable razors as a single-use item which is a very financially and environmentally wasteful mindset.

The typical disposable razor is designed to be used at least 10 times before being discarded.9

How Many Times Can You Use a Razor?

If you oil the blades you might be able to get as many as 50 uses per disposable razor before discarding them, but in the end, they will still end up in a landfill.9

Three blue and grey disposable razors, aligned parallel to each other, against a black background.

(Image: Dmitriy19)

Depending on how often you use and oil them, you could use a disposable razor for several weeks, months, or even years; still, it must be stressed that the product was never designed to last longer than for 10 consecutive uses.

Are Disposable Razors Recyclable?

Are Disposable Razors Recyclable? Can you recycle disposable razors?

The answer is a resounding no. A disposable razor is a piece of plastic with a sharp blade permanently embedded inside of it.

The logistics and costs of separating and sorting the components are hazardous and will cost more than the end-product recyclables, so recycling centers don’t recycle them.10

As of 2021, there were about 200 recycling centers in the United States that specialized in recycling disposable plastic razors.3 But they are small centers spread across the country with extremely limited capacities that can’t realistically impact the true carbon footprint of disposable razors.

What Is a Safety Razor?

The safety razor was the prototype and predecessor to the eventual creation of the disposable plastic razor.11

Graphic comparing safety razor vs disposable razor, detailing that safety razors have a lower environmental impact, are cost-effective in the long term, generate less waste, and have metal blades that are more recyclable, while disposable razors have a higher environmental impact, cost more over time, are fully discarded after use, and are less recyclable due to their plastic components.

It is a razor product consisting of a handle and a guard, or non-removable cartridge head, in which a steel razor blade can be inserted.

Reusable Razor

Safety razors still exist and are a viable alternative to using disposable plastic razors. The only reusable component is the steel razor.

However, they are not as convenient to use as disposable razors.

Safety Razor vs Disposable

When it comes to disposable razors vs reusable, reusable ones are better because all you have to do is replace the steel razor. Safety razors are semi-recyclable razors too, since all you have to do is remove the steel razor which is easier to recycle than a disposable one.

What Is a Cartridge Razor?

A cartridge razor is kind of like a cross between a safety and a disposable plastic razor. It usually has a plastic handle and a cartridge head, a plastic encasement with one or several metal blades embedded in it, that can be easily removed and replaced.

In terms of safety razor vs cartridge, the safety razor is more environmentally friendly. A cartridge razor is basically a disposable plastic razor with a removable plastic cartridge head with embedded razors.

Are There Any Eco-Friendly Razors or Sustainable Razors?

Safety razors are the most eco friendly and sustainable razor products on the market. The handle could be made of steel, wood, or plastic, but if you take care of it, it could last a lifetime.

Are Non-Toxic Razors Good for the Environment?

There are many razor products on the market that are made from recycled or non-toxic materials. While they are good for the environment, they are much more expensive than disposable razors and do nothing to reduce their carbon footprints on the environment.

The Appeal of Cheap Razors

The carbon footprint problem of disposable razors will always be immense because they are so cheap.

Two cartridge razor heads and one handle with a blue and black color scheme, displayed on a white surface.

(Image: Steve Buissinne18)

The typical price for one razor could be less than a buck to less than $3 for a multi-pack.12

Carbon Footprint of Disposable Razors: Are Single Blade Razors Better?

Whether they have one or multiple razors embedded in them, disposable plastic razor blades will always be bad for the environment.

These ultimately end up in landfills and the plastic can end up in oceans.

Do Americans Really Throw Away 2 Billion Disposable Razors Annually?

Americans probably throw away more than 2 billion disposable razors annually.

That 2 billion unit estimate of wasted disposable razors comes from a 1990 EPA research study and probably is not a currently reliable estimate relative to modern consumer standards.2

Over $1.2 billion dollars’ worth of disposable razors were sold in 2018.1 It’s also worth repeating that the United States Government and every corporate disposable razor company in the world do not publish updated nor running statistics about the carbon footprints of such products.

No one expects you to forgo shaving ever again or to stop buying disposable razors when they are a daily convenience.

However, you should consider buying a metal razor with replaceable blades or use plastic razors as many times as possible until public data about the carbon footprint of disposable razors is published from the manufacturers.

Frequently Asked Questions About Carbon Footprint of Disposable Razors

How Many Times Does the Typical Consumer Use a Disposable Razor?

How many times should you use a razor before throwing it away, and can you reuse disposable razors? You can use a disposable plastic razor at least 10 to 50 times before throwing it away.

How Does Reducing Shower Time Decrease Carbon Footprints?

If you take a five-minute shower daily then you can significantly reduce your carbon footprint. You will only use 45 gallons of water weekly and your carbon footprint reduction will be the equivalent of half an acre of a U.S. forest sequestering carbon in a year.13

Why Was the Safety Razor Invented?

Most people went to a barber in the 18th century to get a shave. The invention of the safety razors negated the need to visit a barber daily and created a new business consumer model.

How Much of a Carbon Footprint Does Humanity Generate?

Generally speaking, the entire planet generates a carbon footprint of over 54.6 billion tons.7

How Much of a Carbon Footprint Does the Industrialization of Plastic Generate?

The plastic carbon footprint, or the carbon footprint generated by the industrialized manufacturing of plastic products is over 3.3 percent of that global emission percentage.7 That is the equivalent of over 1.8 billion tons of carbon dioxide being generated by the plastics industry annually.

What Is Carbon Sequestration and How Does it Work?

The planet naturally absorbs and recycles carbon dioxide in the atmosphere via a process called carbon sequestration.14 Plants, trees, shrubs, and even the soil automatically absorb ambient carbon dioxide from the environment and then slowly release it in perpetual cycles in nature for years, decades, and centuries.

How Much Carbon Does One Person Generate Annually?

One person typically creates a four-ton carbon footprint on a global average, but this is a metric that usually applies to people living in developing countries and emerging economies. Americans and people who live in Western economies generate carbon footprints in excess of 16 tons annually.15

How Significantly Can Carbon Footprints Be Reduced by Taking 5-Minute Showers?

A five-minute hot shower produces between 200 to 500 grams (about 1.1 pounds) of carbon dioxide, meaning a longer shower increases your carbon footprint. If you take a five-minute hot shower daily, it results in an annual carbon footprint of approximately 240 pounds.16


References

1Associated Press. (2019, August 7). Here’s how to keep your razors from contributing to landfill waste. USA Today. Retrieved December 28, 2023, from <https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/08/07/landfill-waste-how-prevent-disposable-razor-plastic-pollution/1943345001/>

2United States Environmental Protection Agency. (1990). The Environmental Consumer’s Handbook. EPA. Retrieved December 28, 2023, from <https://nepis.epa.gov/Exe/ZyNET.exe/2000URC7.TXT?ZyActionD=ZyDocument&Client=EPA&Index=1986+Thru+1990&Docs=&Query=&Time=&EndTime=&SearchMethod=1&TocRestrict=n&Toc=&TocEntry=&QField=&QFieldYear=&QFieldMonth=&QFieldDay=&IntQFieldOp=0&ExtQFieldOp=0&XmlQuery=&File=D%3A%5Czyfiles%5CIndex%20Data%5C86thru90%5CTxt%5C00000014%5C2000URC7.txt&User=ANONYMOUS&Password=anonymous&SortMethod=h%7C-&MaximumDocuments=1&FuzzyDegree=0&ImageQuality=r75g8/r75g8/x150y150g16/i425&Display=hpfr&DefSeekPage=x&SearchBack=ZyActionL&Back=ZyActionS&BackDesc=Results%20page&MaximumPages=1&ZyEntry=1&SeekPage=x&ZyPURL>

3Nakagawa, A. (2021, June 28). How Your Plastic Razor Impacts the Environment. EcoWatch. Retrieved December 28, 2023, from <https://www.ecowatch.com/plastic-razor-environmental-impact-2653580880.html>

4Sareen, S. (2020, November 29). A Call to Rethink Disposable Razors. Medium. Retrieved December 28, 2023, from <https://medium.com/the-sustainable-edit/a-call-to-rethink-disposable-razors-dac2b30b462c>

5Palmer, B. (2010, December 28). Trimming Your Carbon Footprint. Slate. Retrieved December 28, 2023, from <https://slate.com/technology/2010/12/what-s-the-greenest-way-to-shave.html>

6University of Michigan. (2023). Center for Sustainable Systems, Carbon Footprint Factsheet. University of Michigan. Retrieved December 28, 2023, from <https://css.umich.edu/publications/factsheets/sustainability-indicators/carbon-footprint-factsheet>

7Ritchie, H. (2023, October 5). How much of global greenhouse gas emissions come from plastics? Our World in Data. Retrieved December 28, 2023, from <https://ourworldindata.org/ghg-emissions-plastics>

8Raabe, D. 8 March (2023, March 8). The Materials Science behind Sustainable Metals and Alloys. NCBI. Retrieved December 28, 2023, from <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9999434/>

9Hammerska. (2018, March 2). Shaving Down Your Ecological Footprint. ENVT. Retrieved December 28, 2023, from <https://blogs.cofc.edu/envt-200-03/2018/03/02/shaving-down-your-ecological-footprint/>

10Brucculieri, J. (2019, March 24). How Bad Are Disposable Razors For The Environment? HuffPost. Retrieved December 28, 2023, from <https://www.huffpost.com/entry/disposable-razors-environment_l_5cdb237de4b0790953deb7de>

11Wikipedia. (2023, December 11). Safety Razor. Wikipedia. Retrieved December 28, 2023, from <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Safety_razor>

12Statista. (2022, February 2). Average price of the leading disposable razor blade brands in the United States in 2019 (in U.S. dollars)*. Statista. Retrieved December 28, 2023, from <https://www.statista.com/statistics/1060104/mens-disposable-razor-blade-brands-average-price-in-the-us/>

13Young, O. (2021, September 19). Shower Less to Help Save the Planet. Tree Hugger. Retrieved December 28, 2023, from <https://www.treehugger.com/how-often-do-you-really-need-to-shower-4868479>

14U.S. Geological Survey. (2024). What is carbon sequestration? USGS. Retrieved December 28, 2023, from <https://www.usgs.gov/faqs/what-carbon-sequestration>

15The Nature Conservancy. (2024). Calculate Your Carbon Footprint. The Nature Conservancy. Retrieved December 28, 2023, from <https://www.nature.org/en-us/get-involved/how-to-help/carbon-footprint-calculator/>

16BBVA. (2024). Showering every day generates 109 kg of carbon dioxide a year. BBVA. Retrieved December 28, 2023, from <https://www.bbva.es/en/general/sostenibilidad/soluciones-para-personas/huella-de-carbono-personas/repositorio/ducharse-a-diario.html>

17Razor Blade Shaving Bathroom Photo by Rigby40. (2021, November 28) / Pixabay Content License. Resized and Changed Format.Pixabay. Retrieved January 29, 2024, from <https://pixabay.com/photos/razor-blade-shaving-bathroom-6826564/>

18Razor Blades Shave Hygiene Photo by Steve Buissinne (stevepb). (2015, January 4) / Pixabay Content License. Resized and Changed Format. Pixabay. Retrieved January 29, 2024, from <https://pixabay.com/photos/razor-razor-blades-shave-hygiene-587625/>

19Razors Sharp Shaving Stainless Photo by Dmitriy (ds_30). (2020, June 2) / Pixabay Content License. Resized and Changed Format. Pixabay. Retrieved January 29, 2024, from <https://pixabay.com/photos/razors-sharp-shaving-stainless-5245332/>