Eco-conscious eyewear: Why frame material matters
Sustainability and environmentalism have become top priorities for brands across industries and many are committed to contributing to the saving of planet Earth. It’s not just a business trend, consumers have taken it upon themselves to consider how eco-conscious their purchases really are.
Producing frames for eyeglasses can be a combination of unsustainable, incredibly wasteful and highly polluting practices. From sourcing, producing and transporting the material to its final destination in a landfill; there’s been a growing call for more sustainable materials to be used in eyeglasses production.
A good reason to bring eco-consciousness to the forefront of the eyeglasses market is that people of all ages are beginning to actively become environmentally conscious. The most environmentally conscious age bracket is the 18-24-year-olds who are entering into the market as conscious consumers with their own purchasing decisions to make.
What is eco-conscious?
The term simply refers to a product, service, or process that is conscious of its effects on the environment. The aim of an eco-conscious decision is to not be harmful to the people and natural space around us. Since there are infinite things that could potentially cause some damage to the environment, there are equally just as many ways to counter these effects. Committing to eco-conscious products can promote the health and wellbeing of the Earths’ environment, as well as every living thing on it.
How to tell if something is eco-conscious
Sustainable, reusable and replenishable materials like wood, hemp, linen, straw, stone and sand are each fairly obvious sources of sustainability. Whilst many companies and their products promise to be eco-conscious, their information is often misconstrued. This leaves consumers feeling confused or leads them to blindly purchasing what they’re told is good for the environment. As such, it’s always beneficial to keep the eyes peeled for the following:
- Energy stars – for electronics and appliances
- Green seal – for environmentally safe cleaning products
- Forest Stewardship Council logo – for wood and paper products
- EU Green Leaf logo – for certified organic produce
These logos, signs and signals are all very good when it comes to buying daily eco-friendly products, but when it comes to thinking about the material of the eyeglasses frames how can someone ensure that the purchasing decisions are contributing to a more sustainable planet? Before looking at some alternatives to wasteful, harmful and non-biodegradable plastics, let’s explore the reasons why the eyeglasses frame material matters at all.
Why eyeglasses frame material matters
From combating pollution to promoting the sustainable use of renewable and biodegradable materials, the eyeglasses industry is taking on global challenges in a bid to help the planet. For the visually impaired, the primary cause for concern is getting the right lenses that will correct their eyesight. Until recently, little attention has been paid to the relatively small piece of plastic that holds the lenses in place.
To combat pollution
The fact is, around 14 billion pounds of waste ends up in the oceans every year, with most of it being plastic. Given the fact that the average eyeglasses wearer upgrades their frames every 3 years, that’s 30 pairs of plastic-framed glasses per lifetime that end up joining this waste. Of the 4 billion people who wear glasses worldwide, that’s a potential 120 billion frames added to the plastic crisis.
A plastic bag takes 100 years to biodegrade and less than 1% of the plastic bag customers take home from stores are recycled. Collectively, people all embraced the reduction of plastic bags and waved goodbye to plastic take-out cutlery and are all at the same time appalled at the amount of unnecessary plastic packaging seen everywhere. It’s time to take individual responsibility for the final destination of the plastic people wear on their faces.
To lower cost
Eco-conscious eyeglasses might not at first appear to be the most cost-effective option. However, in the long-term, they certainly are. Eco-conscious frames are often made from recycled materials, are sturdy and made to last. Unlike plastic alternatives, which break easily, it’s less likely to have to replace eco-conscious glasses frames made out of durable wood, or recycled material. It’s an investment that will pay off in the long run.
Eco-conscious frame alternatives
We’ve reached a time in history whereby an increasing focus on sustainability has spoilt the conscious consumer for choice when it comes to eco-friendly frame materials. However, both cost and material properties play roles in consumer choices. That’s where the innovative application of sustainable materials in cost-effective ways comes into play.
Cellulose acetate is a synthetic compound derived from the acetylation of the plant substance cellulose and is one of the prominent materials used for making eyeglasses frames. It’s often disregarded as just another type of plastic. However, it’s a natural material that is made by purifying the cellulose found in cotton linters and wood pulp.
Cellulose acetate was first used for eyeglasses frames in the 1940s and has since been used for its flexibility, lightweight and hypoallergenic properties. It should be noted that just because the material is from natural, renewable materials like cotton, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s sustainably sourced. Tree pulp can degrade the environment through deforestation and the use of chemicals to process wood chips into finished products. However, most pulp mills make use of sustainable forest management techniques.
Using acetate for high-quality glasses frames requires the additional use of plasticiser to the material, which is what gives acetate its flexible structure and long-lasting durability. Diethyl phthalate (DEP) is the industry standard plasticiser that releases the harmful chemical phthalic acid during the biodegradation process. There are other more natural and non-toxic plasticisers being utilised more across glasses manufacturers. Recently, this has included a vegetable-derived plasticiser which has been found to be more ecofriendly.
Cellulose acetate isn’t written off completely as an eco-conscious frame material. Its raw materials are becoming increasingly sustainably sourced and harvested. Bio-based acetate contains only naturally derived plasticisers, which makes for an entirely toxin-free process. The materials used can then return to the earth cleanly, without causing harm to the environment.
Identifying the perfect solution to the sustainability crisis is impossible wince every manufacturing process taxes the environment in one way or another. However, recycling otherwise wasted material is one way to offset the tax. For example, Mazzucchelli uses recycled acetate swept from the floors of its factory. The impact per frame of this technique is 0 liters of water compared to 2.56 liters in new acetate as well as 0.014kg of CO2 compared to 0.34kg.
Other companies use already wasted materials for the production of eyeglasses frames.
Sea2See makes eyeglasses and sunglasses frames entirely made from recycled marine plastic waste. With a network of fishermen, the company collects tonnes of waste per day from ports and transforms it into an environmentally certified polymer. This salvage process helps to clean the ocean.
For someone looking to purchase eco-friendly eyeglasses, online shops like Eyeglasses.com offer a wide range of sustainable glasses brands, including ECO glasses. Go here to learn more about what they have to offer.
Bamboo and wood
All the above materials can only be truly sustainable if sustainability is made a central part of their production. There are, of course, some naturally sustainable properties like wood and bamboo which are becoming increasingly used in the production of glasses frames. Typically, one acre of new forest can sequester about 2.5 tonnes of carbon annually, while simultaneously producing clean oxygen. Bamboo does precisely the same thing and can be harvested in one to 5 years depending on the species – making it an incredibly renewable material.
Whilst wood and bamboo are sustainable frame material options, their harvest can often do more harm than good to the environment if it’s not managed. Companies that do choose to utilise wood and bamboo in their frames often have environmental motivations and source their materials from sustainable sources.
Companies should source their wood from reputable suppliers that carry FSC certificates. They should also be sure to work closely with suppliers to confirm that their providers and supply chains are on the same page when it comes to sustainability.
In short, the comparison between the production of wood eyeglasses to plastic or metal frames is stark. The industrial byproduct of wood eyeglasses is simply sawdust. It’s significantly less damaging than acetate production. However, when examining the eco-friendliness of wood glasses, the quality of the frame must be considered.
Wood won’t strike anyone as the most durable and flexible material compared to acetate – particularly if it hasn’t been treated. Some manufacturers have attempted to strike a balance by incorporating layers of aluminium into the frames to strengthen them. Similarly, bamboo isn’t as durable or robust, especially for intricate frames.
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