Keys, wallet, phone, sunglasses. Many of us don’t leave the house without our favorite pair of sunnies in the summertime. It’s for good reason: Sunglasses protect our eyes from harmful UV light, and from the dreaded squinting (relatable). But are all shades made equal? Here’s why you should consider ditching the plastic fast-fashion sunglasses and choose sustainable brands instead.
Are sunglasses bad for the environment?
The eyewear market is huge, predicted to hit a global market value of $258.63 billion USD by 2027. With an industry that size, there is always an environmental impact. A key issue with sunglasses is that, although they are not single-use, they are delicate, easily broken, and not easily recycled. This is due to the materials they’re made from. Plastic is often used for the lenses. Frame materials vary from metal to wood to acetate. Plus, tiny screws often hold the product together.
Many of us also see sunglasses as disposable; an attitude driven by the fast-fashion industry.
In April of 2018, major UK retailer ASOS sold 90,000 pairs of sunglasses. A look at the brand’s website today sees more than 600 styles on the site, many priced under £10, and many made from plastic. (And as is well-known by this point, plastic takes up space in landfills, taking centuries to decompose.)
So what’s the answer? Firstly, it’s important to take care of the sunglasses you already own. If you’re tired of them, but they’re in good condition, consider donating them to charity instead of throwing them away. And when you’re ready to buy some more, there are plenty of sustainable sunglasses brands to choose from, each providing durable, eco-friendly, and stylish protective eyewear options. Here are our top 7.
7 sustainable sunglasses brands
To make its sustainable eye gear, Idaho-based Proof uses a range of materials, including recycled aluminum, biodegradable cotton-based acetate, and wood. Plus, each purchase supports a variety of projects that give back to the planet and people. Since its inception, the brand has helped pay for 200 cataract surgeries for those in need, as well as nearly 6000 health and vision screenings. It has also planted 200 trees through reforestation projects and collected more than 2 tons of garbage. And on top of that, its gorgeous frames are built to last.
Just like its namesake’s favorite snack, Wear Panda’s eco-friendly frames are made with bamboo. (The natural resource benefits the environment in many ways; it requires little water to grow and it effectively absorbs CO2.) The brand also cares deeply about people. For every pair of sunglasses sold, it donates an eye exam and a pair of prescription glasses to an individual in need. Plus it has stylish frames of all varieties, from the rectangle Robinson to the circular Hepburn and even cat-eye Valencias.
Sunski’s frames are made from plastic, but not the kind you’ll find in the sunglasses aisles of Primark. In a bid to help reduce landfill waste, Sunski sources plastic from U.S. landfills to create its sophisticated sunnies. Its packaging is also recycled, and instead of tape, the brand relies on the power of origami to keep its boxes together. Like the other brands on this list, Sunski has a strong emphasis on giving back and partners with 1% for the Planet to support environmental nonprofits. So far, it has donated $150,000.
While most see abandoned fishing nets as waste, Cornwall, UK-based Waterhaul believes it’s far more useful to see them as a resource. The brand pulls the nets from the ocean and turns them into stylish eyewear. So not only are the nets no longer a danger to sea life (floating gear can entangle and kill fish, cetaceans, and turtles), but they also have a whole new purpose: protecting your eyes from the sun.
Pala’s beautiful frames are delicate, sophisticated, and hand-crafted in Italy. In a bid to be more sustainable, its 2021 collection was made in small batches by a family-run business in Italy using plant-based bio-acetate. The brand also believes that helping people out of poverty starts with good eye care, and has therefore provided grants to vision centers, screening programs, and dispensaries in Africa. (The continent has 73 percent more visually impaired people than any other region in the world.)
Recycled aluminum, renewable cork, sustainable wood, and bio-acetate make up Bird Eyewear’s eco-friendly sunglasses. The brand, the first-ever UK eyewear company to become a certified B Corporation, offers a wide range of modern styles, from the chic two-tone Athenes to its studious circle Lunas. Again, giving back is a high priority, and the brand has partnered with SolarAid to help provide solar energy to families in Zambia and Malawi.
Sunglasses brand Swway operates on a closed-loop system. This means that when you’re done with your frames from the brand, you send them back to be recycled into a new pair. The climate-neutral, certified B Corporation says that its sunglasses emit 33 percent less CO2 emissions than conventional sunglasses, use 34 percent less water, and produce 82 percent less waste.
LIVEKINDLY is here to help you navigate the growing marketplace of sustainable products that promote a kinder planet. All of our selections are curated by the editorial team. If you buy something we link to on our site, LIVEKINDLY may earn a commission.