If you’re a glasses-wearer, you know that glasses are anything but single-use — they’re something that you probably use during almost every waking moment of the day. But if you’re looking for a new set of frames, are there any companies that make glasses out of eco-friendly materials and using sustainable practices?
Fortunately, more and more sustainable glasses companies are cropping up, offering prescription frames, readers, blue-light glasses, and sunglasses that will keep your eyes protected while respecting the Earth.
So whether you need frames to accommodate your prescription, to block blue light, or to shade you from the sun, read on for a few of our favorite sustainable glasses and sunglasses brands — plus a few options on how to donate and recycle old glasses.
Genusee eyewear is made locally in Flint, Mich., and each pair is made from 15 recycled plastic water bottles used due to the Flint Water Crisis. Not only is Genusee keeping plastic water bottles out of landfills, but the company is also creating living wage jobs in Flint, bringing attention to the crisis, and donating 1 percent of profits to the Community Fund of Greater Flint.
Genusee offers glasses in pretty much every variety, including: prescription, non-prescription, blue-light filtering, anti-fog, sunglasses, transitions, and readers. The company pretty much just offers one frame shape, but it comes in a wide variety of frame colors and lens colors. The company is primarily online but you can try the frames on at a few stockists across the U.S. Frames start at $99.
Bôhten is a Black-owned company making African-inspired eyewear. The company uses sustainably-harvested materials to make its glasses, including reclaimed wood and other discarded materials sourced across Africa. Bôhten also manages tree-planting programs in Ghana and Kenya to help fight deforestation.
Bôhten makes glasses frames in varying fashionable styles, some of which incorporate wood and unique shapes. You can order prescription, non-prescription, and progressive lenses, as well as the same applications for sunglasses. Frames start at $150, and the company also offers a free home try-on scheme.
Ballo is a circular, carbon neutral glasses company based in Woodstock, Cape Town, South Africa. The company uses offcuts, recycled materials, and sustainably-grown natural materials to make its glasses, and hires local workers to handmake all of its specs, rather than use automated machines. For each pair of sunglasses sold, Ballo plants a tree with African nonprofit Greenpop.
Ballo offers frames made from unique materials including wood, cork, hemp, and African fabrics. You can get polarized sunglasses, mirrored sunglasses, blue-light blocking prescription-free glasses, or lens-free frames, which you can then take to any optometrist to be fit with your prescription lenses. Prices start at $99.
Pela is best known for Pela Case, the compostable phone case. But the company also operates Pela Vision, which makes 100-percent biodegradable sunglasses and blue-light glasses. Despite being biodegradable, these specs are durable and UVA/UVB protected. Pela Vision sunnies are not available with prescription lenses, but they do come in a variety of funky frames and colors.
And when you’re ready to part with your Pela glasses, they won’t break down in your backyard compost bin like the company’s phone cases do, but you can send them back to Pela to be upcycled or recycled. Prices start at $64.95.
LaBante London is a PETA-approved vegan and ethical brand, specializing in fashionable sunglasses, purses, jewelry, and other accessories. The brand manufactures its goods sweatshop-free in a Sedex-certified factory in Guangzhou, China.
If you’re looking for seriously stylish sunnies, LaBante London makes all of its sunglasses from 100% percent recycled wood, and packages them in bamboo and cardboard. The London-based brand ships internationally, and prices start at £99.90 (though at time of publication, some frames are on sale for as low as £39.99).
How to donate or recycle old glasses and sunglasses:
If you have an old pair of glasses or sunglasses that you’d like to keep out of the landfill, there are many options for donating and recycling them. Unfortunately, some organizations that have been accepting glasses donations for years shut down their programs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
One awesome organization currently accepting donations of glasses in good condition is ReSpectacle. Just mail them to ReSpectacle, 529 2nd Street, Suite 100, Hudson, WI 54016.
You can also donate gently-used eyeglasses (prescription or non-prescription) to the organization OneSight, which will then recycle or donate your glasses to someone in need. You can do so by dropping them off at your local LensCrafters, Sears Optical or Pearle Vision store, or by mailing your specs directly to OneSight at: Optical Village OneSight Center, 9924 International Blvd., Dock 22, Cincinnati, Ohio 45246.
According to Recycle Now, many local opticians will accept donations of old glasses, and donate them to partner organizations — so check with yours.
TerraCycle offers an Eyewear Zero Waste Box for $113, so if you have a bunch of pairs in an unwearable condition that you’d like to ensure get recycled, and you can afford the box, this could be a solid option.
If your old sunglasses are non-prescription, in good condition, and fashionable, consider donating them to a thrift store or trying to sell them to a consignment store (either in-person or online, like Poshmark).
In 2022, Warby Parker partnered with Eastman to create a demo lens recycling program, to tackle the issue of demo lens disposal. The clear plastic lenses to maintain frame shape were creating 5,000 tonnes of waste annually industrywide. That's why Eastman is using Carbon Renewal Technology to break the lenses down to their molecular level. From there, they are reused as the building blocks to create Eastman Acetate Renew which is a more sustainable version of traditional acetate. However, this new program only recycles plastic lenses used in Warby Parker's demo frames, and is not for recycling customer lenses. Hopefully in the future, Warby Parker will roll out such a program.
This article has been updated.