Last updated: December 2016
The best an ethical consumer can get?
The rise of the hipster and the fashionability of facial hair hit the shaving sector hard, with sales down in 2013 after many years of growth. Reports the following year of ‘peak beard’ having been reached may indeed have been accurate, as the pendulum appears to have swung back in favour of shaving and the market is on the rise again.
In the UK, nearly £350 million is spent on razors every year. That’s an increase of nearly £100 million since the last time Ethical Consumer covered them in 2009. The market is dominated by Gillette brands, whose Fusion and Mach 3 brands for men and its Venus brand for women together rake in £245 million, which is around 70% of all UK razor sales. In a not-so-close second place is Wilkinson Sword with 19% and, thirdly, Bic, the king of the disposable razor, with 4%.
The majority of these razors come in two parts: the reusable plastic handle and the disposable blade cartridges. The former is usually cheap but is enough to lock consumers into a product line that enables companies to charge much higher prices for the cartridges. Worse than that, the whole operation is fantastically wasteful: blades are discarded after only a handful of uses and handles may be periodically rendered obsolete as newer models are brought in.
There are currently no programmes for recycling blade cartridges. You can, however, extend the life of your razor cartridges by caring for the blades between uses. According to www.wikihow.com, you can get more out of disposable razor cartridges by properly cleaning and drying your razor after use, storing it in a dry environment or soaking it in oil.
Luckily, there are some better options. The Preserve brand has a handle made from recycled yoghurt pots which you can send back to the company to be recycled at the end of its life. Or you could buy a traditional, double-edged safety razor from Merkur, or the cheaper Wilkinson Sword Classic. They have handles that are built to last and because the steel blades don’t come in a plastic cartridge, they can be recycled.
See also our guide to Shaving Gels & Foams >
If you can’t stomach the waste associated with disposable razors, an electric shaver or epilator may be a good option. Although they use mains charge, either to run directly or to charge an internal battery, these items are covered by the European Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive, which means that when they reach the end of their life you can return them to the company for recycling.
Although some epilators can be used in wet conditions, most electric shavers and epilators are designed to be used dry, which means reduced use of the creams, foams and gels that often accompany razor shaving. Avoiding such products not only cuts down on packaging, it also avoids substances potentially tested on animals or containing parabens, phthalates and palm oil derivatives. We will be covering these shaving products early next year.
Score table highlights
Corporate social responsibility reporting in the razors and shavers market is patchy at best.
Environmental Reporting is substandard across the board, with only Preserve and Bic receiving our best rating and four others receiving a middle rating (Braun, Gillette, Panasonic, Boots).
The picture for Supply Chain Management is even bleaker: not a single company scored best and only two (Bic and Philips) did enough to gain a middle rating.
Companies did slightly better in the area of conflict minerals, where regulations require that they produce some kind of reporting. This category only applies to the eight companies making electric shavers and epilators, not companies like Preserve and Bic that just make razors. Five companies scored either best or middle and three scored worst.
Anti-Social Finance and Political Activities are prevalent across the big corporations (Procter & Gamble, Edgewell, Philips, Panasonic, Remington/Spectrum Brands, Walgreens Boots Alliance). Many companies also lost marks under the Animal Testing and Pollution & Toxics categories because they manufacture shaving-related products without having policies against using animals to test ingredients and against the use of parabens and phthalates, or having specific dates for phasing these out.
Socially and environmentally responsible options are few and far between. Preserve was left as the only company to have a positive Company Ethos rating for its use of recycled plastic and its own recycling programmes.
Company behind the brand
With 70% of the razor market dominated by its Gillette brand, Procter and Gamble (P&G) is the most important company in this sector. The company received our best rating for palm oil and was praised by the Union of Concern Scientists (UCS) in 2015 for its strong commitment to sourcing palm oil sustainably.
However, campaign organisation SumOfUs have an ongoing action against Procter and Gamble over its relationship with Felda Global Ventures, a Malaysian company that is the world’s largest palm oil plantation operator.
According to SumOfUs: “Felda deals in the human trafficking of its plantation workers, confiscating close to 30,000 passports, and still works with labor contractors and recruiters who charge enormous fees to traffick foreign workers. Plantation workers are trapped in modern day slavery, all to produce palm oil that ends up in P&G products.”
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