Debbie Clark studied a systems approach to sustainability with the government and now learns from various environmental groups, including 350 Fairfax. She practices reducing, recycling, and composting. 

As an avid recycler, I often miss an opportunity right in front of my face, like my eyeglasses!

Eyeglasses come in metal or plastic and today most eyeglass lenses are made of high-tech plastic instead of glass. And many have plastic frames. Add prescription changes, style changes, breakage and sunglasses and the volume of plastic starts to grow.

I was made aware of this by my dad, a member of his local Lions Club. Lions Clubs collect eyeglasses with the goal to make them available for reuse to those who cannot afford them. Used eyeglasses are collected from many sources, including eye doctor offices. Lions Club volunteers sort them to determine those that are usable or unusable. Usable eyeglasses are distributed to optical missions around the world. To help minimize landfill waste, unusable eyeglasses are processed for precious metal reclamation and scrap.

I started to see the sheer size of this project when I discovered my dad had won an award many years in a row for single-handedly collecting and sorting over 1,000 eyeglasses a year. That’s a lot of glasses.

It is not hard to drop off your used glasses (and hearing aids) during your other errands. As mentioned, eye doctors have bins for used glasses, as do many grocery stores (at their pharmacies). Libraries often have bins near the front desk. Your community center may have a drop-off. Have fun donating, knowing you are helping others less fortunate and keeping the glasses/aids out of the trash. For more info, here is a link: Lions Clubs International

Besides Lions Clubs, another eyeglass recycler is 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. Donated glasses can be shipped to Respectacle’s main location in Minnesota if there is no drop-off location near you.

Even metal eyeglass material can be hazardous to the environment. 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. Most silver is produced as a byproduct of copper, nickel, and gold mining, which is one of the most destructive industries in the world.

You might consider frames made out of recycled plastic, plant-based acetate or sustainably harvested wood. Unlike most other plastics, acetate is not petroleum-based but is made from cotton and wood fibers instead. Many are very stylish! One caution, even acetate frames can have hazardous chemicals in their processing. Try to purchase acetate frames from European companies that have high employee protection standards. Acetate can last a long time. So one might plan to make them a long-term purchase and then recycle them.

You can find alternative material frames at your local stores or check out one of these websites: Modo (made of 95% recycled plastics and steel); Trees for the Future. Nature Eyes (made from at least 75% recycled wood, titanium, and acetate); Solo Eyewear (20% recycled plastic, or repurposed bamboo and acetate); (made of lightweight frames made with recycled bamboo, bark, and wood); Dick Moby (using 97% acetate waste); Homes Eyewear (using old-growth wooden boards repurposed from old houses in Detroit); Vinylize (made from vinyl records); Sea2See (up-cycles ocean plastic into frames). North Point and Blue Planet also make frames from ocean plastic.

-Debbie Clark