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Environmentally-responsible glasses – something to take a very close look at!

Between big-brand luxury glasses made by the sector’s heavyweights like Essilor, Luxottica and Safilo. and opticians’ brands with tempting promotions, do environmentally-responsible glasses have their place?

While we have already switched to slow fashion, by dropping big chainstore brands, ethical and ecological concerns don’t occur to us as much when it comes to prescription products, like corrective glasses. Or even when looking to treat ourselves to new sunglasses, as a fashion accessory that we mix and match with our outfits.

An environmentally-responsible approach to eyewear seems advisable, in light of the fact that, here in France at least, more than seven out of ten people wear glasses. Moreover, three out of four adults buy new ones at least every three years. Furthermore, the majority of these are made of plastic (injected plastic, cellulose acetate or Grilamid) or from a mixture of metals (titanium, aluminium, stainless steel, cobalt, nickel). Most importantly, the majority of these are made in Asia.

All the more since, in the natural environment, a standard pair of glasses takes more than 400 years to break down, leaving pollutants behind.

From frames made of recycled or biodegradable materials, to the second-hand glasses market, to “eco-opticians” concerned about the environment – there are alternatives, but as always, they call for a proactive approach.

Between big-brand luxury glasses made by the sector’s heavyweights like Essilor, Luxottica and Safilo. and opticians’ brands with tempting promotions, do environmentally-responsible glasses have their place?

Frames made of biodegradable materials

To be respectful of the environment, more and more new brands are using natural biodegradable materials to produce the frames of their glasses. These materials include French FSC-certified wood (i.e. that from well-managed forests) and bio-acetate. In addition, some frames are made from bamboo or cork, using eco-friendly manufacturing processes.

Wood, the natural material

Lunettes en bois - WE ARE CLEAN - CLEAN FASHION

Wood-framed glasses appeared on the scene some ten years ago, not least in France with the brand Waiting for the sun. They are booming, and gaining ground on opticians’ stands. Wood is a supremely natural material, on condition that it’s produced locally and not treated with polluting substances. The following French brands are at the cutting edge when it comes to this material: Mou Sunglasses (glasses with frames made from wood from the Basque country); In’bô made from Lorraine region wood; Woodlun’s from the Ardèche, which uses oak, chestnut, ash and beech with cherry, walnut and maple trims… And some precious types of wood – zebrano, ebony and amaranth – sourced through recycling; and Shelter in Annecy, which salvages dead wood and crafts sunglasses in its workshop. As for the English brand Bambooka it uses a giant bamboo species which yields lightweight, strong frames. It also donates its profits to People Empowered Preserved Earth, which supports and teaches permaculture and hygiene. In addition, Hemp, uses the material that its name suggests.

Bio-acetate and bioplastics

Since the early 2010s, bioplastics made from maize, ricin oil or seaweed have in some cases been used to manufacture glasses. Natural PX is a polymer consisting of 65% ricin oil. But bio-acetate is the certainly the most widespread of these new materials. This biosourced polymer, dubbed M49 and sold since 2013 by Mazzucchelli, yields a thermoplastic material that’s environmentally responsible. It’s made out of cotton flake powder and wood cellulose powder, mixed with a natural plastifying agent. Bio-acetate is 100% biodegradable and recyclable, and free from phthalates. Once in landfill it can break down naturally within 115 days. There are now bio-acetate designs at French optician chains Grand Optical, EcouterVoir(under the Juste brand) and Générale d’optique (Go Green). At Afflelou, the Magic 13 frame is made from G850, made out of ricin oil (with lenses made from BD8, a recyclable material).

Moken, based in Hossegor, was set up there in 2014. Since then it has been offering biodegradable, organic, biosourced glasses, initially made out of cork, wood and stone. The brand has recently ventured into bioplastics, made from plants, to make ethically-sound glasses. Waiting for the sun has also developed a new material, bois2. This recyclable, biodegradable bioplastic is made from recycled wood offcuts from the brand’s wooden frames.

Frames made from recycled materials

In the interests of zero waste, a great many eyewear firms have started manufacturing frames from recycled materials, of various and often surprising origins. In this way, wood from furniture manufacturing, strips of old skateboard and even old oak barrels are becoming the raw material for the arms and rims of glasses. Other highly technical processes also make it possible to render food waste from foodservice settings, by making glasses frames out of compressed coffee grounds or ground-up shells. Waste salvaged from the sea can also be used.

Recycled natural materials

So some frames are made from dried compressed coffee grounds (Ochis Coffee).The sea is also bountiful: Naoned brand glasses are made in Brittany, and include designs made out of seaweed. As for Friendly Frenchy (also based in Brittany), the firm salvages empty shells, and seafood shells from restaurants or the agri-food industry. They are then ground up and incorporated into the solid plates from which the frames of glasses are cut. Another of their collections is made from grape seeds. The production process means that they are 100% made in France.

Recycling and Upcycling

A great many brands use recycled material for their metal-frame collections, like the Danish brand Monkeyglasses - which also makes frames from bio-acetate.
Some pretty funky frames are made from recycled everyday objects. Barrels, furniture and even skateboards (7 Plis) at the end of their useful lives are salvaged and turned into recycled frames.

Glasses are made out of old unplayable vinyl records by Vinylize here in France, and Spexwax in San Diego. Here, the complimentary glasses case is made from the cover of the record used.

Yuma labs uses 3D printing for its glasses made from recycled fridges, recycled fizzy drink bottles (from Europe) and even recycled dashboards (from the Netherlands)!
SeatoSee was set up by a Dutchman living in Barcelona. He uses waste items (mainly fishing nets, but also bottles) that get collected and recycled thanks to a scheme involving thousands of fishermen in Spain, France and West Africa. This way, it fosters their awareness of marine waste issues. The entire production process of the glasses takes place in Italy.

As well as the raw material used for frames, there’s assembly to consider. With most hinges being made in China, some eyewear firms make frames by hand, without screws, to optimise the way they break down. This also allows them to take an environmentally-responsible approach from beginning to end. They use food varnish and food colouring in their product finishing.

Lastly, when dispatching frames to the optician, some cut out plastic by wrapping them in recycled, recyclable paper. In addition, they use cardboard or recycled materials to make their glasses cases.

Vintage glasses


Some brands, and some opticians, have opted to give glasses a new lease of life. They do so by picking up glasses dating back to the 1950s or 60s on flea markets, by collecting them from opticians or as part of donation drives. They then recondition them, either for resale in their specialist shops or to extend them to the wider public (with little or even no income), like Lille-based Lunettes de Zac. 

Photo : © Lunettes de Zac

Glasses lenses and sustainable development

While frames make it possible to be inventive when it comes to material use, corrective lenses leave fewer alternatives, for the moment at least. Because lenses are either organic (made from a synthetic material), made from polycarbonate (an unbreakable and lightweight material) or mineral-based. While the latter can be recycled very easily, they are being used less and less, because they are too heavy and break easily. But these mineral-based lenses seem to be making something of a comeback, not least for sunglasses, as they are much less prone to getting scratched.

More eco-friendly processes

While les possibilities are minimal in terms of materials, a great many lens producers are introducing manufacturing processes that make it possible to rein in their impact on the environment. Some French lens producers work to produce eco-friendly lenses by recycling and re-using the water used in the cutting process, by switching out some single-use supplies in favour of washable ones, by dropping lead use and taking an innovative approach with 3D printing.

Biodegradable optical lenses?

Optical lenses can be biodegradable, too. Some manufacturers make lenses from a bioplastic derived from ricin oil. They can be clear or even tinted as sunglass lenses and take less than four years to break down in the natural environment.

Responsible opticians

Opticians are shaking up the market, too. In 2012, one of the first environmentally-responsible opticians, Sébastien Bétend, set up an opticians’ shop In Bron (France) near the Swiss border. This shop stocked only environmentally-responsible, brands and those manufactured (and not merely assembled) in France. He went on to set up his own brand, OpSB. It offers glasses that are locally produced, ethically sound and eco-friendly, made from material that’s 100% recyclable and 80% biodegradable. Several other opticians, in Paris and other large cities, are going down this route.

© Jimmy Fairly

The Jimmy Fairly chain also offers on-trend glasses, with ethically-sound positioning thanks to its “buy one, donate one” policy. For each pair purchased, a pair of new prescription glasses is donated to someone in need via charities.

Organising the end-of-life phase of glasses

“Standard” glasses are not recyclable. In its “Guide du tri” (waste-sorting guide), ADEME states that they should be thrown in the household rubbish bin, bound for incineration or landfill. Wood-framed glasses don’t escape this directive, due to the glue that bonds the wood sheets together. According to an Opinionway study carried out for French optician chain Atol, 100 million pairs of glasses are lying around in drawers across the country. Fondation Krys states that every year, 10 million pairs of still-useable glasses are thrown away in Europe and the USA. Whereas, if they are in good condition, glasses can be returned to the stockist, which passes them on to associations. French chains Krys, Vision Plus and Lynx Optique are part of the Fondation Krys Group, and Jimmy Fairly customers can return their old glasses when the time comes. Lions Clubs and Glasses Without Borders also organise collection and redistribution operations so that glasses can be part of the circular economy.

It’s all go on the eyewear scene. To the point that one driven, principled optician has created the “Optic for good” certification based on commitment to eight charter criteria. While still in its infancy, with 11 brands and nine opticians, with the label showing their credentials this initiative is expected to develop quickly.

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