Plastics are used in packaging, including single-use food and drink packaging, tires, clothes, eyeglasses, lenses, water pipes, insulation, medical devices and so much more. According to the United Nations (UN), they are so ubiquitous in our natural environment that they’ve become a part of Earth’s fossil record and a marker of our geographical era, the Anthropocene era. The UN states that plastics have given their name to a new marine microbial habitat called the plastisphere. Plastics end up in our landfills, oceans and rivers, and as they break down, they shed microscopic particles that end up in the environment, both in our water supply and our air, where they are ingested or inhaled by animals, marine life and people. Every time we do a load of laundry with clothes made of plastic-synthesized materials (polyester, spandex, rayon, acrylic, polypropylene, nylon, etc.), we put microplastics into the air and water supply. Micro and nano plastics are tiny pieces of plastic prevalent in our environment. They can enter the body and have recently been found in the blood, fatty plaques, placenta and fetuses. Seventy-seven percent of the people tested had microplastics in their bloodstream. The full impact on our health is not yet known, but in a new study, researchers say they have detected plastic pieces inside fatty plaques that accumulate in blood vessels and linked them to a 4.5-fold greater risk of major complications, including heart attacks, strokes or death, according to the study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

So, what does this have to do with the optical industry? Our industry is a heavy user of plastic for eyewear. For this reason, I was thrilled to read about Eastman’s opening of an advanced molecular recycling facility in Tennessee. Eastman produces sustainable alternative materials for eyewear—Acetate Renew, Tritan™ Renew copolyester and Tenite™ Renew cellulosics are born out of molecular recycling technology that uses hard to recycle plastic waste as a feedstock and breaks it down at the molecular level. As a result, it helps divert waste from landfills, incinerators and the environment while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. These sustainable materials are indistinguishable from their heritage counterparts with no need to alter production processes, offering the same performance and aesthetic properties for an unchanged consumer experience that is better for the environment. Molecular recycling technologies enable new materials to be produced at a reduced carbon footprint. By using plastic waste as feedstock, molecular recycling reduces reliance on fossil feedstocks and produces virgin-quality intermediates with 20 percent to 50 percent less greenhouse gas emissions than heritage processes. The plastics industry of which Eastman’s is a part of created the plastic waste problem, particularly with single-use plastics, and it is imperative that they are part of the solution to the problem.

Consumers and ECPs can support optical companies using sustainable practices to produce materials for frames and lenses, like Eastman’s Acetate Renew. The following list is not complete, and I welcome feedback from frame or lens brands that belong on this list. Send me an e-mail at [email protected]. The eyewear brand Ben & Frank has a line of optical frames using Eastman Acetate Renew, as do Oakley, Salvatore Ferragamo, Safilo, Marchon and FGX. Also, frame acetate producer Mazzucchelli offers acetate frame materials made from Acetate Renew. I appreciate that as eyewear retailers and consumers, we can incentivize and support the manufacture of healthier, environmentally safer products with your purchasing power.

Deborah Kotob
Pro to Pro Director
[email protected]