Which More Eco Friendly? Contact Lens or Eyeglasses?

I don’t know if you have ever had this question from your environmentally concerned patients, but if you google this question it over 19 Million results, which means the consumer wants to know.

Creative Commons License photo credit: donnamarijne

Creative Commons License photo credit: donnamarijne

Frankly for those who need vision correction- they have 4 options 1.) Eyeglasses 2.) Contacts 3.) Lasik 4.) Nothing. As Nothing is out of the question I will deal with the others and it is a toss up. The other side of the coin, what does it matter? If you have contacts, you should have a back up pair of eyeglasses and at least one pair of sunglasses. Plus everyone should have a pair of sunglasses for maximum eye protection. WHY- cataract surgery is one surgery you may not avoid, but you can certainly put off for year.

Eyeglasses by the manufacturing nature use energy. Most eyeglasses and readers are made in China-Asia or Europe (transportation cost). Depending on the type of material, there can be a lot of waste. Polishing eyeglasses can take a lot of water, some of which cannot be recycled. There are eco-friendly eyeglasses, MODO for instance makes eyewear out of recycled materials and plants a tree for every frame sold. Bamboo Eyewear is available as well. Since most Bamboo come from China, but  it is also home to  Panda’s whose habitat is being encroached upon by civilization and bamboo harvesting. The most Eco Friendly Bamboo eyewear you can purchase is eyewear that is certified FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) Bamboo.

  • Wood is another option, but cutting down trees to make eyewear is iffy unless you are making eyewear from reclaimed wood or FSC certified wood. In the case of a company called Drift Eyewear (Californnia_, they make eyewear  from driftwood. No trees are cut and the wood is salvaged. Many wood eyewear suppliers are ‘local” in other words, they are small companies that are hand making their eyewear locally. This means  if you are purchasing from a local company i.e. Shwood,  (Oregon), you are keeping your tax dollars local and reducing carbon footprints by less transportation costs.
  • Another Eco Friendly option is to buy local. Buy frames that are made in your city, state or country. As an example, Frieze Frames and Wiley X make ‘USA’ eyewear. Rons Optical distributes products such a Ficklets which are made in the USA.
  • Since ‘Retro; is such a big trend-  vintage frame is probably the  most sustainable option. There are many local antique and eyewear stores that stock vintage frames plus ebay and numerous online stores. The carbon footprint is the cost of transportation.
  • Another choice in the Eco Friendly Eyewear arena is to purchase Eyewear  from companies that give back. There is a myriad of companies that consistently support vision Saving organizations, that give back to their local charities. Companies such as WileyX and Zyloware are housed in sustainable buildings, ClearVision supports local charitable causes, Hilco, Wiley X and ClearVision support Breast Cancer initiatives. 141  Eyewear gives a frame to the needy for every frame sold, others support 1% for the Planet, some plant trees.

Lenses on the other hand use a lot of waste (energy and water) The Vision Council  Sustainability committee is working hard on developing resources for labs to effectively re-sell and recycle their waste products. You can eco-eyes your lenses by companies such as Vision-Ease Lens, who use renewable energy and have made in USA lenses. Technically speaking if a lab has Free-Form Lens Equipment, the product is made in the USA which makes it very sustainable.

Lab Equipment manufacturers keep developing ‘energy and water efficient’ equipment. Most likely the most Eco Friendly way to make lenses is to make them in-house if you are an optical retailer (less transportation cost) and use Water-Energy Efficient machinery. You can purchase ‘Reused Equipment from companies like Vision Systems, purchase all in one Surfacing Equipment from Fast Grind or purchase  or Briot, AIT and Santinelli have Water Saving lab equipment.

Buying Cheap Eyewear and Readers is not an Eco-  Friendly option for many reasons. 1.) The first being that cheap is usually disposable. Disposable = waste in landfills. 2. Cheap means most likely made in China (high carbon footprint and labor costs?) 3.) Cheap is non-biodegradeable material, which  means if it goes in landfills, gets lost.. it will be there 1000 years from now. The most eco friendly thing to do is purchase a quality frame that can be reused or donated over the years.

Consider the average consumer buys 1 new pair of glasses every 2.2 years. If they recycle their old eyeglasses (donate or resell) their ‘eco-worthiness’ goes up.

Fortunately you have two great options for Eco Friendly Eyeglass Cleaners. Both are made in the USA and both are biodegradeable and use biodegradeable packaging. Nanofilm and Kleerspex.

Contact Lens;  Again the process of contact lens manufacturing take alot of energy and water. The best option is to again buy local and if you can buy made in the USA. The eco-thing about contact lens is the packaging and the solutions, the contact Lens kits, plus the use of water, you are running when putting in contacts.   You can recycle the aluminum and the cardboard in blister packs..Even if wearing dailies. .the transportation cost of getting them.. it adds up. – Add into the fact a contact lens wearer should have a back up pair of glasses and wear sunglasses. The best thing you can do is to recycle the contact lens cases, encourage your patients to reuse or bring them into you. Another option available is vegan contact lens solution call Clear  Conscience. 

Just to add a little more The Slate did a whole article on this and the carbon footprint.

What about eyeglass lenses? The amount of material can vary, depending on the type of plastic used, the prescription, and the shape of the frame. But a reasonable estimate, according to the Minnesota-based manufacturer Vision-Ease Lens, might be 120 grams of plastic for a pair of blanks—little slabs that opticians can grind down into finished lenses—and 35 for lenses that come pre-finished from the manufacturer, and just need to be shaped to fit the frame. Consumers tend to buy new glasses every 2.2 years, but 35 grams of plastic is the equivalent of  almost four years’ worth of daily contacts, or more than 50 years’ worth of biweeklies.

 …Bausch & Lomb told her that making one pair of soft contact lenses produces approximately 0.29 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent, and Vision-Ease has estimated that (in its Minnesota facility, at least) making a pair of eyeglass lenses produces 10.5 pounds of CO2-equivalent. If those numbers can be trusted, wearing daily disposables for a couple of years would contribute 22 times more greenhouse gas emissions than wearing a pair of glasses over that time. However, there are still frames and plastic bottles and cardboard boxes to consider, not to mention the production of all the raw materials.

Lasik Surgery- There is a fallacy, that if you have Lasik you will never need to wear glasses again. First most likely you will need to wear readers at some point.  And definitely need Sunglasses.  Is the carbon footprint reduced?

Bottom line- It is a personal choice. Stem Cells and implants are a wave of the future, but who can know when and how affordable must less viable it is. If your patients ask this is what you can tell them.

1.) Buying local (from you) is one of the most sustainable things a consumer can do

2.) Promote (if so) you are using local suppliers

3.) Recycle blister packs if their local ‘waste management’ does not.

4.) Set up your ‘Eco  Friendly’ eyewear options in the dispenser with proper signage.

5.) Put up this type of information on your website.

6.) Encourage them to recycled readers, eyeglasses and sunglasses.

For more information, see our Pinterest Board on Eco Friendly Eyewear. 

See What Myoptic Optometry Says: on their 6 Ways You Can Save The Earth With Your Eyewear.

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