The mere fact that many millions of people globally wear spectacles, particularly in developed nations where strong marketing pressure encourages consumers to regularly turnover spectacles for fashion reasons, has caused an ethical dilemma; what do we do with them when we no longer want them? Will they create endless mountains of landfill, or can they be recycled ethically and sustainably?
Donating to Charity
It may be simple to suggest that unwanted spectacles be donated to various charities that can sort and distribute the spectacles appropriately to regions where they are most needed. Indeed, the Lions Club via partnerships with other organisations have been doing just that for many decades, distributing glasses to nations in Africa, South America and the sub-continent. Whilst this is a well-intentioned initiative, one published study has shown that only 7% of donated glasses were useable, and at double the cost of providing new glasses in these regions. This is due to several factors that include the cost of sorting, cleaning and delivering the spectacles. Spectacle prescriptions have to match the end user, and because of the many combinations of prescription available, this becomes a “needle-in-the haystack” proposition. Nonetheless, the Lions Club claims to recycle about 37% of all its donations, and many optical outlets, including Kosmac & Clemens Optometrists, accept donations on behalf of the Lions Club.
Your Choice of Spectacles
Perhaps the ultimate solution to reducing waste should be centred around prevention rather than cure, by choosing your spectacles wisely in the beginning. Despite the higher initial cost, quality frames will endure wear & tear for many years, meaning that lenses may be upgraded into them, saving money and waste in the long run. Also choosing frames with a more enduring and classic styling that take much longer to appear dated, negating the need to upgrade spectacles regularly on fashion grounds.
Good Care So They Last Longer
Taking good care of your spectacles will also reduce wear & tear. Strategies like keeping spectacles in their case when not in use, cleaning lenses with the recommended cloths & cleaners, and not wearing glasses on a chain where they can be exposed to physical damage, are all helpful strategies in prolonging the useful life of your spectacles.
Consider Repairing Versus Replacement
How about repairing spectacles when possible? Often frames require minor repairs to render them useful again, extending their life and reducing the burden on landfill.
What about materials recycling? The options for recycling in this way are fairly limited, however choosing frames made out of aluminium or stainless steel for instance, can easily be recycled at your local municipal refuse centre.
There are many strategies available for reusing and recycling spectacles. Educating consumers on what they can do, with particular emphasis on encouraging behavioural change in entrenched consumerist thinking, will lead to the greatest results. Whilst challenging, this is both good for the health of our planet, and a rewarding outcome for the eye care industry.
By Dr. Ed Kosmac – Optometrist and Director at Kosmac & Clemens Optometrists