We are experiencing a global waste crisis, with plastic and other waste material finding its way into our oceans and landfills and endangering our environment and wildlife. With this in mind, many organisations are seeking ways to recycle waste into useful products. In the optical world, groundbreaking companies all over the world are creating innovative eco-friendly eyewear from recycled materials, proving that it is possible to make good quality products in a socially responsible way. Because most people own at least one pair of sunglasses, this accessory is the one most often produced from recycled materials. However, sunglasses are not the only eyewear products made from waste.
One eyewear company is making glasses from sustainably sourced wood with side shields made from recycled salmon skins. Fresh from the cannery, the skin, which is usually thrown away, is now dried and treated to make these side shields. Continuing the theme to help save the oceans from pollution, one company is making eyewear from abandoned fishing lines, while another reclaims old lobster traps. In Chile financial incentives are provided to a local fishing community to drop off discarded fishing nets which are endangering marine life; these are then fashioned into attractive eyewear.
Many companies in various countries are making glasses from wood, which comes from diverse sources ranging from wine barrels and beer casks to skateboards, baseball bats and even abandoned homes. For music fans, companies based as far afield as San Diego and Budapest are turning vinyl records into cutting edge eyewear. And for wine lovers, unique eyewear is made from recycled wine corks. Several companies produce creative eyewear from recycled newspaper, comics and magazines. An American company is creating eyewear from denim, while a company in Tanzania is incorporating upcycled African fabrics into their unique designs.
In addition to recycled plastic, some manufacturers are producing attractive sunglasses from cellulose acetate, a synthetic compound which is derived from plant cellulose and is easily biodegradable, making it eco-friendly.
Not stopping at design, many companies are committed to giving back by donating part of their profits to charitable causes such as ocean clean-up, educational programmes or helping restore the vision of people in need, whether it's an elderly person in an underdeveloped country or an impoverished child close to home. A California-based company sums up their goals to "help protect the planet, change lives and have fun". With every pair of glasses they sell, they donate a pair to someone in need via their global sight-giving partners.
Self-taught Kenyan artist, Cyrus Kabiru, recycles waste into flamboyant rather than functional eyewear. "When I woke up every morning the first thing I'd see was trash" recalls Kabiru. "I used to say to my dad that when I grow up, I want to give trash a second chance. I don't see trash as waste; I see it as a chance for creativity."
After finishing high school, Kabiru's father wanted him to study electronic engineering, like most members of his family. Kabiru, however, had no desire to study. "I grew up being a bad example," says Kabiru. "Grownups used to tell their kids, 'you need to work hard or you'll end up like Cyrus.'" He rented a studio where, apart from his unusual spectacles, he started working on colourful and satirical paintings, as well as sculptures, all made from recycled materials collected while roaming the streets of Nairobi.
Today, Kabiru's remarkable creations and commitment to the environment are increasingly earning him international recognition. He has been invited to speak at major events, while his work has been exhibited in many shows across the world and right here in South Africa.
Closer to home, Kabiru says things are changing as well -- his perseverance and hard work have now turned him into a "good example" for youth in his community. When he's not crafting spectacular artwork in his studio or scouring the streets for materials, Kabiru is visiting rural communities in Kenya as part of his outreach initiative, aimed at encouraging creativity and raising awareness about ecological issues in his country. He holds workshops and teaches people how to create art with the materials surrounding them in an environmentally friendly way.