When people think about their environmental impact, the things they eat and the way they travel from place to place are two of the largest concerns. This makes sense because those lifestyle choices account for sizable portions of a consumer’s carbon footprint. However every purchase can be viewed through an eco-friendly lens (pun intended) and if you’re in the market for eyewear, you might wonder which is more environmentally friendly: eyeglasses or contact lenses.
A lot of factors need to be taken into account, including the energy cost of producing and shipping the designer frames or contacts, how often you get a new pair, and what supplemental supplies such as cleaning fluids are required for maintenance. Here are some the advantages of each of the two types of eyewear:
- Estimates by the environmental blog Tree Hugger place the average replacement rate for glasses at about three years. While some people might where there glasses for much longer this is a good baseline for comparing with contact lenses.
- Contact lenses can be replaced as frequently as once a day or on a monthly or even annual basis if you have hard, gas-permeable lenses. However, even with daily contact lenses only use a fraction of the plastic used to make a pair of eyeglasses.
- While contacts don’t require much material they do require plenty of lens solution, and that’s not even counting the packaging they come in, which tips the scales back in favor of prescription eyeglasses. If soy-based contact lenses come on the market in the near future it could improve the eco-friendliness of contacts.
- The Washington Post cited an estimate that making a pair of eyeglass lenses produces the equivalent of 10.5 pounds of CO2.
- One of the biggest environmental perks of eyeglasses is that, unlike contact lenses, they can be donated to the needy. Organizations like Lions Club International make sure that your glasses go to good use long after you’ve outgrown them
In conclusion there is not enough data publicly available for a thorough carbon footprint lifecycle analysis from the day a pair of glasses or contacts is made until it is thrown away. However, glasses seem to be the slightly greener choice. Now it’s back to worrying about the gas you pump and the grub you eat.