Dear Umbra,

Every morning when I shave, I stare in the mirror and wonder if my razor is the best choice for the environment. I realize the easy answer is to let the beard grow. Except the problem is, lots of today’s environmentalists are quietly waging their struggles in modern offices, where beards do not sit well with the management. And besides the risk of my boss telling me I look unprofessional, a beard is a surefire way to guarantee that no one takes my environmental ideas seriously. Plus I’m single, and I don’t want to blow my chances of ever getting a date again.

Right now I buy plastic disposable razors that you throw away after one use. They’re inexpensive and get the job done quite painlessly, but they’re plastic and they’re disposable. So I’m toying with the idea of buying the old-school barber kind that requires considerably more time and skill, but does not wind up in the landfill.

Am I misguided, Umbra? Is there a better alternative?

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

David Grover
Nottingham, England

Dearest David,

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Which blade is best?

Both fairness (Title IX) and bias (male boss) compel me to respond to your male-grooming query. Actually, few male-grooming issues land in my mailbag — I welcome the recent increase, and the aesthetic relief and gender equality it implies.

Your argument for remaining beard-free is unimpeachable. But you must stop using disposable plastic razors. I don’t need to spell out the reasons: the source of plastic, the likely distant country of origin, the effect on the waste stream. Here in the U.S., 2 billion disposable razors are purchased annually. That’s a lot of space in the landfill.

Besides the environmental concern, David, there’s, well, the dorkiness. You want a date, you want the date to lead to something, and at some point the date might see you shave. Shaving is sexy, and a choice opportunity to impress that special man or woman with your suave masculinity. Plastic disposables say, “I think little about personal grooming” — not to mention, “I’m cheap” — and you have little margin for this type of drastic error.

So yes, you need an alternative. Electric razors won’t do, because they use electricity. Not much, to be sure, maybe 15 watts — but if we’re going to talk about the impact of shaving, we might as well split hairs. We don’t need to add any more watts to your consumer demand. A permanent razor that uses refillable blades is somewhat better; at least your generated trash won’t involve the plastic handle. But as you surmise, the no-trash option is best.

A straight razor will place you in the rarified echelon of sexy enviro men who remain low-hair with confidence, style, and danger. Also, the straight-razor purist uses only hard soap — one more opportunity for waste reduction (viz., those aerosol cans of cream). An excellent tip from one straight-razor aficionado is to gradually phase the new razor into your routine, using it on easy areas like the sideburns first. Other how-to tips and necessary supplies are all over the internet.

I bet if you get the technique down, your increased self-confidence (“can wield blade near throat without fear of death”) will radiate around Nottingham, and all the hard work will pay off.