Commentary: Sharp Ideas for a Green Christmas

  • Safety razors: a clean, green stocking stuffer .

What are you going to stuff into the stocking for your dad, brother or other male loved one this Christmas? Another pack of plastic razors?  You may want to think twice about that.  

Don’t buy me a new razor this Christmas. Sleek and stylish with self-applying lubricants and eight razor arrays in neon hues of plastic. I think it’s just a bit too much.

I have what’s known as a safety razor. It’s a chunk of art deco, chromed stainless steel -straight out of the jazz age. I’ll probably lose it before I wear it out. The thin square blade is an undeclared pop-art icon with JAPAN written in bold black letters like a craftsman's name on a samurai sword. The safety razor was the replacement for the cut throat “straight” razor at the turn of the 20th Century and it maintains much of that close-to-the-skin intensity.

It’s sustainable--and, I know--sustainable doesn’t sound as flashy as many of the razors on the market, but an encounter with the clutter of male grooming sent me in that direction.

After my dad died during my senior year in high school we went through his sizable collection of disposable razors: three-headed electrics, and cans of Barbasol--a veritable armory in the long war against scruff. I tested out a bunch. They all worked alright, but the sheer quantity of simply mediocre products made me more aware of how wasteful these sundries are.

Other family artifacts of Wagners with and without beards pointed me toward the safety razor. Like my grandfather’s straight razor --which I was not about to touch without a barber’s certification. And then there was soap and a brush, the old-time version of shaving cream--something my mom and I had gotten him for Christmas a few years before. He said he preferred it, though I noticed he still kept an old can of shaving cream on the sink.

At one point my mom got me a razor with a battery that made a sound like an electric toothbrush. It had more blades than common sense and could only last a few shaves before all four or five of them went into the trash. I was still stuck in shaving purgatory.

Then my friend Zack told me about his safety razor. He said it was giving him a better shave. I bought one online--it’s hard to find in many brick and mortar stores. Zack was right. Snugly held in place in the safety razor, a blade at a perfectly perpendicular angle gives THE best shave. I didn’t buy it because it was something that would get me brownie points with Greenpeace, but a good shave might ultimately be more than just whisked-away whiskers on your face.

After many shaves, when the blade is dull and the markings a bit less vivid, the razor slides off and--with a push of my thumb--into a plastic holder. That’s where it will sit until that razor blade can be recycled into anything--maybe even an I-beam somewhere.

Shaving isn’t the only lesson in the that I’m reminded of during the holidays--I have another story with something sharp is involved.

My Aunt Fawn and Grandmother Olive are infamous in my family for neatly cutting the tape on presents and then folding it to save for another year. Most wrapping paper, just so you know, is extremely unrecyclable because of the foils, dyes, and laminations used to make it into the captivating stuff we love.

Their frugality was what you might call green but watching them not having fun with ripping apart patterned paper annoyed me for years. Now, though, I appreciate the value of that paper and their skill in using plastic tape like a carpenter uses nails. The careful unwrapping not only reduced how much paper they bought and used, but also brings my grandma’s vintage gold and cream colored wrapping paper back year after year. “Haven’t I seen that before?” is the traditional greeting of an unopened present. Most of that paper is older than I am.

Whether you’re unpacking a safety razor or unwrapping presents, a few simple flicks of a blade could make a major impact on more than just an epic mustache.