Inspired by our Summer 2016 issue of the Green American on recycling, editorial fellow Ilana Berger investigated why and how to buy recycled eyeglasses. Here's what she discovered....
A few weeks ago, I went to LensCrafters with my mom to help her pick out a new pair of glasses. Having been blessed with 20/20 vision, I had never been glasses shopping before.
I must have picked out around 15 different frames for her to try on, but none of them stuck. Mom would try a pair on, consult a mirror, usually with a dissatisfied expression, then glance at the brutally honest saleswoman who would shake her head.
It wasn't until right before we were about to leave that I noticed some frames in the glass desk we were sitting at. They were tasteful, inexpensive, and best of all, had an eco-friendly label. By that time, mom had already decided on a pair and didn't have the patience to try on another. And I didn't blame her! That was when I began to understand why many people don't wear eco-friendly frames.
Flaws of Metal Frames
Choosing glasses frames seems like it can be such a stressful process, that when you find something you like, you are likely to buy it regardless of its material. But before you walk out of Lenscrafters, or another store, consider what goes into traditional metal frame making. What you learn might make you want to take the extra few minutes to find a pair of eco-friendly frames.
According to the Ecologist, an environmental affairs magazine, most metal frames are made out of titanium, silver, or stainless steel. Titanium itself is thought to be safe for humans, but its production creates hazardous waste. There are two processes that are used to manufacture titanium: the sulfate process and the chlorine process.
The sulfate process creates sulfuric acid waste, which gets dumped into surrounding bodies of water. The increased acidity then lowers the PH of the water, which lowers oxygen levels and suffocates marine life. It is also very corrosive, and burns plants and animals that it comes into contact with. Crude titanium dioxide is purified using the chlorine process, during which titanium is fed with carbon and chlorine gas. If the gas escapes into the atmosphere, it can cause skin, nose and throat irritation, chest tightness, and difficulty breathing.
Silver can be equally as damaging. Most silver is produced as a byproduct of copper, nickel, and gold mining, which is one of the most destructive industries in the world. Open-pit mines, which are created by blasting soil and rock away to bring the ore to the surface, destroys habitats. They also creates tons of solid waste.
According to Oxfam America and Earthworks’ joint 2010 report Dirty Metals: Mining, Communities and the Environment, in 2001, 96 percent of arsenic emissions and 78 percent of lead emissions came from metal mining. Mining also exposes rocks that contain sulfide to the elements for the first time, because the metals are often found within them. This can be a problem because when the rocks are dumped as waste, the sulfides react with air and water to create an extremely high concentration of sulfuric acid.
The mining industry is also infamous for violating worker rights by turning a blind eye to dangerous working conditions. In the mines, rock falls, tunnel collapses, fires, and heat exhaustion are all common causes of injury and death. Deep shaft miners spend hours working in temperatures as high at 140 degrees F. Anyone remember the 33 Chilean miners who were stuck 2,300 feet underground for 69 days in 2010? That was a gold and copper mine. All the while, they were inhaling toxic methane gas and dust, which causes tuberculosis, bronchitis, and lung cancer in the long term.
In China, around six million miners have been afflicted with silicosis from inhaling quartz dust. The disease causes the lungs to scar and harden so that lose their flexibility, and the afflicted person can no longer breathe in and out. It is irreversible but completely preventable with proper gear and ventilation. To make matters worse, according to Reuters, an international news agency, management and authorities often try to cover up mining accidents and avoid covering medical bills that miners cannot afford to pay.
Investing in Recycled Eyeglasses
I could go on and on about the harmful effects of metal mining and manufacturing, but the important thing is that there is something you can do to reduce the demand for these processes. Consider investing in frames that are made out of recycled plastic, plant-based acetate (from a green company), or sustainably harvested wood. Unlike most other plastics, acetate is not petroleum-based but is made from cotton and wood fibers instead.
Companies are coming up with creative ways to offer recycled and biodegradable frames that are just as stylish as ordinary ones.
Look for eco-friendly or recycled eyeglasses at your local store, or check out one of the websites below:
- Modo: Eyewear design, manufacturing, and distributing company whose brand, ECO, is made of 95 percent recycled plastics and steel. Modo is the first consumer company in the world to receive an Environmental Claims Validation (ECV) on recycled content, from UL (Underwriter Laboratory) Environment, a company that certifies electronics. Modo also plants a tree in Cameroon for each pair of ECO frames you buy, in a partnership with Trees for the Future.
- Nature Eyes: Designs several brands of eyewear, including models made from at least 75 percent recycled wood, titanium, and acetate. One of their collections is made from 100 percent recycled materials including the packaging, and has a hinge-lock or buckle-lock instead of traditional screws, so they're super durable.
- Solo Eyewear: Creates a selection of sustainable, reasonably priced frame designs that are 20 percent recycled plastic, or repurposed bamboo and acetate. Every pair of glasses you buy helps to fund eyeglass prescriptions and eye surgeries for people in developing countries.
- Readers.com: This website sells a selection of lightweight frames made with recycled bamboo, bark, and wood.
- Dick Moby: Dick Moby works with Mazzucchelli, a leading acetate producer, to make its black optical and sunglasses frames using 97 percent acetate waste. According the website, the remaining 3 percent is black ink. Other colors are made from biodegradable acetate certified as being free from crude oil and toxic plasticizers, and all frames come in a recycled leather case with a cleaning cloth made from recycled PET bottles.
- Homes Eyewear: This company makes sunglasses frames using old-growth wooden boards repurposed from old houses in Detroit. They get the boards from Reclaim Detroit, a social enterprise that creates jobs for people in the area dismantling parts of buildings instead of destroying them.
- Vinylize: A Budapest-based company that makes eyewear from high-quality recycled vinyl records to increase durability. Fun fact: many of its frames are made from minimal techo vinyls.
Another great way to get the most out of a pair of glasses is to recycle them when you're finished with them. Instead throwing your gently used frames away, bring them to one of these organization's drop-off centers to help someone who may not have access to proper eye care.
- Respectacle Inc.: This organization enters its donated glasses into a database so that people all over the world, or their eye care professionals, can view their options and choose a pair of glasses that is the right style and prescription for them. Glasses can be shipped to Respectacle's main location in Minnesota if there is no drop-off location near you.
- Lions Clubs International: As part of its Recycle for Sight program, Lions Clubs collects used glasses at regional Lions Eyeglass Recycling Centers. The glasses are then sorted by hand and given to low-income people. You can also ship glasses to any Recycling Center, or the Lions Clubs headquarters in Illinois.
- Saving Sight: A nonprofit organization that takes recycled eyeglasses from Lions Clubs and other organizations and makes sure that they get to the people who need them by distributing them to humanitarian groups and to Respectacle to be entered into its database. Saving Sight also has six office locations where you can directly donate glasses.
—Ilana Berger, editorial fellow