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Published on September 4th, 2008 | by Stephanie Evans


Eco Eyewear for Greener Vision

Eco eyewear may be easily overlooked, but stylish, sustainable options are right before your eyes.  Whether you’re looking for reading glasses, optical specs, or even sun shades, a low-impact, planet-friendly choice will not only help you see better—it will have you looking good too.

A typical pair of glasses is fashioned from plastic—both the frames and the lenses.  Plastic is a recyclable material but the production of plastic uses oil, a process that releases carbon dioxide into the air.  Also, once those sunglasses have been sat on or stepped on too many times, they are usually discarded and sent to a landfill for a very long wait.

Fortunately, your glasses don’t have to participate in this energy-intensive chain of events!  We’ve collected your best options for selecting, recycling, and reusing your specs…

Eco Friendly Eyewear

Eco Eyeglass Frames

Producing eyewear made from 100% reclaimed material halts the need for new materials to be harvested and created, reducing carbon emissions and keeping waste out of landfills.  Companies such as ICU Eyewear offer a wide range of reading glasses in cool, modern designs starting at $22.  Products include recycled metal, reclaimed plastic, and bamboo.

iWood ecodesign is making sunglasses from sustainably harvested wood, which decreases deforestation and preserves the trees that release oxygen and reduce carbon dioxide.  iWood’s wooden frames exude a modern, fashionable look that stands out from typical plastic eyewear.  Starting at $370, these wood frames are comparable to most designer frames.

Fashion to grace the face is also being made from bamboo, a sustainable, renewable, biodegradable, and fast-growing grass that absorbs greenhouse gasses and produces oxygen.  Amy Sacks offers reading glasses, optical glasses, and sunglasses starting at $155, similar to prices through most optometry offices and eyewear retailers.

Reusing frames is another way to cut down on the production of new plastics.  If your prescription is old but the frames are good, have your optometrist update your prescription using the frames you already own.  Scratched sunglasses can be remade into reading or optical glasses simply by replacing the lenses.  Other places to look for used frames are Goodwill stores, vintage shops, and online sellers.

Life Through Green Lenses

Your optometrist will know best concerning the type of lenses you should use to see the world.  Most lenses are made from plastic, though some are still made from glass.  Different lenses have different collective impacts on the environment, so if your prescription is low and you have lens options, consider the following:

Glass vs. Plastic

  • Glass lenses are scratch resistant, but their heaviness can make them uncomfortable for those with strong prescriptions.  Glass are easy to recycle, but glass also breaks easily and needs to be handled with care.
  • Plastic lenses are commonly made from polycarbonate, a strong plastic that is lightweight and is easily made to block UV rays.  Polycarbonate lenses are one of the most common types of lenses in use, yet the production of polycarbonate requires toxic chemicals.  Like all other plastics, plastic lenses can (and should) be recycled if they break.

If the frame of your glasses breaks but your prescription is still current, consider finding the same pair of frames or smaller frames so the lenses can be cut to fit, eliminating excess cost and the need for production of new lenses.

Eyeglass Donation

Recycling Eyewear

When a pair of glasses outlives its usefulness, do not banish them to the trash and a long repose in the landfill!  There are many options for repurposing that unwanted pair of glasses…

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 153 million people around the world need glasses for nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism.  90% of all people who need glasses live in low- and middle-income families.

Many organizations collect and send used eyeglasses to people who need them and can’t afford them.  These recycled glasses are fixed, sterilized, and fitted for the new wearer.

These organizations and charities happily accept your unwanted eyeglasses:

  • The Lions Club program—Lions Recycle for Sight—hosts domestic and international eyeglass donations that benefit children and adults.
  • LensCrafters collects used specs and offers special free eye exams to the homeless.
  • Unite For Sight donates glasses and provides vision screenings in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

Improving Global Vision

Advances in vision screening and lens manufacturing technologies are helping to make eyeglasses more affordable and attainable for everyone.

OptiOpia, based in California, is developing technology that will make eye exams and determining prescriptions easier for countries that lack optometrist and other eye care professionals. The company is also developing ways to produce on-the-spot lenses, making lens production cheaper and glasses more affordable.

Charitable and service organizations—such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB)—work with developing countries, offering eye exams and eyeglasses to those who need them.  World Sight Day, which took place last year in October in countries all over the world, spread eye care awareness by providing free eye exams and easy access to glasses.

WHO and IAPB also organize Vision 2020, a global initiative working to prevent blindness.  Vision 2020 members work internationally to spread eye care education, eyeglasses, and optometrist tools, believing that everyone has a right to sight.

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