Difference Between Eco-Friendly, Ethical and Acetate Sunglasses
In the same way you need to include sunscreen as a part of your daily routine, it’s also important to protect your eyes from the sun’s harmful rays with eco-friendly sunglasses. However, you may be aware that there are two very important conversations going on in today’s media: the impact of sunscreen on your health and the impact of sunglasses on the environment. These topics aren’t new. The discussions of pollution, toxins, renewability and recyclability have been held for many years now. However, as the climate continues to change, the voices are getting louder and it seems that no two opinions are alike.
In this guide, we’ll talk about sunglasses, prescription glasses and eyewear specifically. We’ve discussed sunscreens and skin care products at length in other guides on Citrus Sleep, but we thought it was time to clear up confusion some of our readers have felt: confusion about the difference between eco-friendly, ethical and acetate sunglasses.
About Eco-Friendly Sunglasses
Everyone is entitled to an opinion. Political affiliation, religious beliefs and whether or not the color orange is attractive are just a few examples. However, some things aren’t left to opinion. Instead, they’re based in science. The world is changing. The science is the proof, just ask NASA, the World Health Organization, the National Centers for Environmental Information and many, many other reputable agencies. It is, in fact, becoming more and more necessary and responsible to care for our kids’ planet, whether you do so on an individual, grassroots or large-scale level.
With that said, your opinion of what constitutes “eco-friendly” may differ from someone else’s. You may simply recycle your wine bottles while your neighbor shops organic, composts religiously and donates her time and money to global initiatives. The reasons you choose to shop eco-friendly, support environmental groups or even go off the grid are unique to you and you alone. You may have been influenced by economic factors, your upbringing or a deep concern for the future of our planet. Each human’s interests in eco-friendly initiatives differs so widely, we’ve chosen to focus on just a few factors that comprise an eco-friendly pair of sunglasses. These include lenses and frames that are recycled, biodegradable, crafted from sustainable materials like bamboo and others.
In summary, what defines eco-friendly to you may differ greatly from what defines the term to your neighbor or co-worker. You may shop for sunglasses that are recyclable or that are made from organic or repurposed materials. Of course, you simply may not know what makes sunglasses eco-friendly. Let’s look at a few criteria you can choose from when choosing an eco-friendly pair of sunglasses.
Most sunglasses are made up from more than one material. For instance, a typical frame will include metal, plastic and glass components. Some will include paints and dyes, and still others may use chemicals in the manufacturing process.
Today, however, more and more companies are choosing to create sunglasses that, though they may not be 100% recyclable, are crafted from recycled materials. The frames may be crafted from recycled metals, plastics or even from reclaimed wood. The lenses may be made from recycled plastic, but usually they are not. Even the hinges and other components could be created using recycled metals. As you shop for your next pair of men’s or women’s sunglasses, look to see if the products are at least partially made from recycled materials. If this is the case, they’re usually also recyclable.
In the same way your sunglasses could be made from recycled materials, they may also be fully recyclable. Even if they’re made from new raw materials, buying a pair of sunglasses that can be recycled is still somewhat more earth-friendly than purchasing a pair that’s not. Plastic sunglass lenses can almost always be recycled. The frames may be crafted from metals like steel or aluminum, or they could be bamboo, wood or plastic. The hardware and hinges might be any manner of metals.
Given that sunglasses are created using so many different materials, it can sometimes be tricky to recycle them. However, there are organizations out there to which you can donate your glasses. These groups will either deconstruct and recycle your shades, or they will repair them and donate them to people in need. Search your local listings for drop boxes or organizations where you can donate your used glasses to be recycled.
It’s fair to say that no sunglasses will be completely sustainable. However, you can come very close when you look for glasses made from materials that are recycled, from reclaimed wood, from sources like bamboo, or from more eco-friendly plastics.
As you shop for sustainable sunglasses you should also take a look at the manufacturing process. Explore the environmental footprint of the factories used to produce the glasses. Additionally, pay attention to the shipping practices, opting for minimal packaging that’s recyclable and eco-friendly.
We’ve chosen to include bamboo sunglasses in a category of their own because bamboo is one of the most renewable, sustainable and eco-friendly materials in the world. The plant requires a minimal amount of water for healthy growth. Bamboo doesn’t generally require fertilizers, either. Furthermore, the grass cultivates itself! There’s no need to add pesticides, additional water for “baby” plants or ofor farmers to increase labor forces. When you shop for bamboo sunglasses, there are two important things you should look for. First, check the manufacturer. Be sure that whichever company has crafted the glasses has done so under fair trade conditions. Many manufacturers are overseas, and child labor as well as forced labor are not out of the question.
Secondly, you’ll want to check the source of your bamboo. While bamboo is easy and inexpensive to grow, you can’t always be certain that harmful chemicals aren’t being used anyway. Farmers will sometimes add these chemicals to increase the yield of their crops, so be sure yours are certified to be non-toxic.
As mentioned, there are a number of groups out there that will take your old glasses and make them new again. That means, of course, that you can find those repurposed sunglasses on the market.
Repurposed sunglasses use a minimum of raw materials, generally only replacing one or two components. Most commonly, it’s the lenses that have been replaced. Choosing repurposed sunglasses is obviously a great way to reduce your environmental footprint and to choose an eco-friendly pair of eyeglasses or sunglasses.
About Ethical Sunglasses
Ethical practices are much more black and white than eco-friendly ones. Shopping for an ethical pair of sunglasses, you’ll check off a list of dos and don’ts ranging from environmental issues to labor standards and ethical manufacturing processes. In going through this list, you may find that you prefer a company to give back to the local or global community. You might want your sunglass manufacturer to be a woman-owned or family owned business, or a member of 1% for the Planet. You simply may ask that the company plant a tree for every pair of sunglasses sold.
In this section, we’ll look at a few examples about what makes a sunglass ethical. There are certainly some rules on the checklist that are mandatory for a company to follow, but there are many others that create an additional incentive to buy from a company.
Fair Trade Sunglasses
A fair trade operation is mandatory to ethical sunglasses. You’ll want to ensure that there is absolutely no forced labor or child labor. Workers should be paid a wage that’s consistent with the cost of living in their region. There should be no employment discrimination against any person because of their race, gender identity, religious beliefs or any other personal choice.
Fair Trade manufacturing is important to the economy, to the environment and to individuals and their communities. When you shop fair trade you’re ensuring that no farmer, worker or craftsman will have to fight an unjust battle with big business – this frequently causes the loss of a sustainable income to the small scale worker.
More about Fair Trade Certified Sunglasses:
Your fair trade sunglasses don’t necessarily need to be certified as such, but it definitely helps. Look for certifications from:
World Fair Trade Organization
Fair Trade USA
Fair Trade Federation
Ten Thousand Villages
European Fair Trade Association
Give Back Sunglasses
This category encompasses a huge range of possibilities for your check list. After all, people choose to give back to the community in many different ways – why shouldn’t companies? Choose to keep it simple. When you’re shopping your sunglasses, check out the website of the manufacturer. There, you’ll be able to better determine whether the company is committed to giving back to the planet or the community. Some companies give back locally. That is, they’ll collect your old, unwanted frames and lenses, fix them up and donate them to members of the community or shelters who may be in need. Others will give back on a larger scale, choosing to distribute shades globally to those who need them.
Some companies will give back through monetary donations. For instance, they may donate a portion of their annual proceeds to groups that support social or environmental causes. For instance, those who are members of 1% of the Planet commit to doing just this. Still others may choose to give back in other ways. Perhaps they’ll allow employees a paid day off to volunteer, or will commit to planting a tree for every pair of glasses sold. There are quite a few ways in which companies may choose to give back – this is item on the check list that isn’t mandatory but is certainly a bonus.
Think about it: under what circumstances would you expect your sunglass manufacturer to have to test on animals? Cruelty-free sunglasses are on the “must have” list for ethical sunglasses. Your sunglasses should contain only materials that are safe for wildlife and not tested on animals.
However, please take a moment to do a little research on the company that makes and sells your glasses. Are any other products marketed by this company harmful to the welfare of animals? This doesn’t just mean that the products are tested on animals. It could also mean that chemicals are released into soil systems or waterways, so be sure to check out the company’s full environmental report.
The Type of Business
This item on the check list isn’t mandatory. However, you may be interested in what type of operation is crafting your sunglasses. Are you interested in supporting a woman-owned business? A family-owned business? A group that is run by veterans of the United States (or any other) military? A business that has a particular religious affiliation?
Keep your own values and ideals in mind as you shop for your next pair of sunglasses. While you’re browsing, be sure to visit the About Us or Our Story page on the company website.
What are Acetate Sunglasses?
As we mentioned, there’s been quite a bit of conversation about the eco-friendly and potentially harmful effects of sunglass manufacture and life cycle. During that conversation, the subject of acetate sunglasses frequently is mentioned. Are acetate sunglasses eco-friendly? What are acetate sunglasses, anyway?
Acetate is a lightweight, flexible, durable and bendable material that’s made from natural and wood-based fibers. Made from renewable resources, acetate cellulose has earned quite the reputation as an eco-friendly alternative to metal and petroleum-based products.
More About Acetate Sunglasses:
However, the hype over acetate may not be all it seems. Don’t be mistaken – acetate has a lot going for it. It’s:
Made from mostly natural materials
More durable, less brittle and more functional than traditional plastics
A more eco-friendly alternative to other plastics, usually
However, there are some serious downfalls to acetate. While it is, in fact, sourced from natural ingredients, that’s not all that’s lurking in your favorite pair of shades.
Acetate is made from plant cellulose, but there are obviously steps that must be undertaken to transform that plant material to acetate. Included in those steps is the addition of caustic acids. These acids are acetic acid, acetic anhydride, and sulfuric acid. These substances are extremely harmful and corrosive and can cause a serious negative impact to health and to the environment. Even inhalation of these chemicals can lead to dire consequences. In addition, other chemicals like plasticizers are used to create acetate, further increasing its health and environmental impact.
As far as the latter is concerned, many times waste from the production of acetate is dumped, unpurified, into the ecosystem – soils or waterways. As you’d imagine this is severely detrimental to the health of natural habitats and the animal and human communities who live there.
Can You Recycle Acetate Sunglasses?
In a manner of speaking, acetate is recyclable. As we’ve already discussed, it can be difficult to recycle sunglasses as a whole because they’re comprised of so many components. The easiest recycling solution for your acetate shades is donation or choosing an organization that will upcycle them. You can’t put your acetate glasses in the recycle bin with your other recyclables because they’re not actually plastic. The lenses are, so you can pop those bad boys out and toss them in the bin with your water bottles.
Acetate can technically be recycled, but it’s not common practice. The recycling of acetate sunglasses is done more on a manufacturing level than a community or individual one, so your best bet is to refit them with new lenses or to donate them.
Will Acetate Sunglasses Biodegrade?
With hesitation, the answer to this question is yes. See, acetate is the same material found in cigarette butts. While the paper and the “leftover” tobacco will disappear in a fairly short period of time, the filters will remain for years. The short answer to this is that while acetate sunglasses will eventually biodegrade under certain conditions (for instance, they must not be exposed to light as they do so) it will take quite a bit of time. Some manufacturers claim that recycling your acetate frames is as simple as composting them. That’s simply not so.
Another consideration to keep in mind is that of the chemicals used in the manufacture of acetate. Even if acetate frames will eventually break down, does it mean it’s safe to do so? Even more pressing is the question of whether you want those chemicals in your home compost bin! In short, acetate is a plant based product that has great potential to be an eco-friendly material. However, it’s still got a long way to go.
Conclusion: Which Pair Do You Wear?
Simply put, sunglasses are essential to your eye health. It only makes sense that you should choose a pair of eco-friendly sunglasses that’s also healthy for your body and for the planet. So which is the best pair for you? As you shop the possibilities, there are many factors you’ll want to bear in mind. Is the manufacturer fair trade? Are the glasses made from recyclable or recycled materials? A re sustainable products used in the process? Does the company you’re buying from make an effort to give back?
All these questions are important to consider as you browse your options, so let your conscience be your guide. At best, your sunglasses will be socially and environmentally responsible. At worst, choose a pair that’s sold by a company that gives back to the planet and the global community. The rest is up to you – you’ll choose your causes and your “must haves” on the checklist and pick a company you love. Then, let your style guide you to your new favorite eco-friendly sunglasses!
Lisa Czachowski is a professional social blogger and has worked on several online publications including Citrus Sleep. Lisa is an experienced content writer and copyeditor. You will find many of her works throughout CitrusSleep.com that cover a wide array of subjects including sustainability, natural, sleep products, health, fashion and many more. She is passionate about what providing as much information as possible on products you bring in your home and what we wear.
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