By Jenny Cutter, Recycling Representative, Allied Waste Services, Fremont, CA.
Previously published by the Northern California Recycling Association in the March 2011 NCRA News.

Ever wonder what to do with a pair of eyeglasses or sunglasses you no longer need? Reuse and recycling options are available via 17 Lions Club International programs in the US and at least 6 in other countries. The official Western US Lions Club International Recycling Center is located in Vallejo, CA. Lions In Sight of California and Nevada is a non-profit organization established in 1987 as an endorsed project of Lions Club International’s California District. “Dedicated to bringing basic eye care and eyeglasses to a world of people in need”, Lions in Sight (LIS) collects and distributes glasses to organizations in countries requiring assistance.

Over 500 eyeglass collection locations exist in California and Nevada. Optometrists’ offices, eyeglass retail stores and hospitals are common sites. Glasses are also collected by local Lions Clubs. Items may be mailed or dropped at the LIS Warehouse, 1404 Lemon St, Vallejo, CA 94590. Call 707 648-2306 for hours.

Eyewear goes through a sorting and cleaning process at the warehouse. The prescription of each pair is determined using a lensometer, a machine that measures the strength or power of the lenses. Reading glasses – commonly known as readers, are typically in high demand and short supply. Fortunately, LIS recently began manufacturing readers to help alleviate this problem. Approximately 30-40% of the glasses collected are in good enough condition for reuse on clinic missions. Reusable eyewear is then cleaned, labeled and packaged for shipping.

The distribution of usable glasses occurs on LIS organized clinic missions. To date, Lions in Sight has completed over 200 clinic missions in 32 countries, helping over 200,000 people improve their vision and lives. Typically, 10-12 clinic missions are conducted yearly at different locations around the world. The majority are two to four day missions to one of the nine Lions Club Districts in Mexico. Clinic missions are conducted by California and Nevada Lions Club members.

In January 2010, I went on a two-day clinic mission to Mexico with the Union City Lions Club of which I am a member. It was an amazing experience to have the opportunity to help people improve their vision. At the clinics, volunteer optometrists from the U.S. administer eye exams and determine patients’ prescriptions. This information is passed to Lions Club members who match needed prescriptions as closely as possible with the LIS glasses on hand. After selection and fitting, the patient is advised on the proper use of their new glasses.

If possible, patients are asked to make a small contribution for these services. Those referred for ophthalmological consultation or eye surgery are usually assisted financially by the Mexican host Lions Clubs. Many patients travel quite far because there are no affordable and/or available eye care services in their area. They are very grateful for the assistance they receive, which makes the clinic work even more rewarding for volunteers.

According to Dr. Bill Iannaccone, LIS Chief Operating Officer and Lions Past International Director, about 600,000 to 700,000 pairs of eyeglasses are collected yearly. Of these, half (300,000+) are sent to Mexico; the remainder are shipped to over 20 developing countries in need. Most glasses go to Mexico because LIS has the majority of its permanent clinics there (37 total) and due to Mexico’s proximity to California.

An exceptional aspect of LIS is that they waste nothing; eyewear unusable for clinic missions are not discarded. Instead, they are donated to other non-profit service groups or sold to companies that refurbish glasses and recycle individual components. Glasses with unusual or extremely specific prescriptions are not acceptable for clinic missions. Additional factors that make eyeglasses ineligible include severe scratches or breaks, missing parts, or other irreparable damage.

As stated by Walter Griffin, LIS Warehouse Manager and Lions Past District Governor, donations go to non-profits like Feed the Children that repair and distribute glasses internationally. Other recipients include the Southern Baptist Ministries, World Relief Volunteer Optometric Services, Spirit & Truth Ministries, and Bless the Children Foundation.

Eyewear is also sold to a reconditioning and recycling company in Los Angeles called Respecs. Established in the early 1990s, ReSpecs attempts to restore glasses or disassembles and salvages as much as possible. Anything leftover – plastic and metal frames and components – screws, hinges, etc.) – is sent for recycling. Glass and plastic lenses are the main item that ReSpecs cannot recycle. If you want to get a new one, you have to visit this site. Profits from sales to ReSpecs support LIS’s operating expenses (rent, utilities, equipment, maintenance, shipping, etc.).

LIS is immensely successful in its mission to provide basic eye care and vision restoration services to patients on a global scale. They also deserve recognition for their efforts to reuse or recycle all collected eyewear. This is quite an accomplishment, especially with the large volume of materials received and limited operational funds. It takes significant time, labor, and equipment to sort eyeglasses. LIS could just throw away everything unusable for its clinic missions, but instead they make sure all materials are utilized.

Now that you know that LIS is a valuable reuse and recycling resource, I hope you will spread the word and encourage others to donate unwanted eyeglasses or volunteer at their Vallejo warehouse. Also, monetary contributions are always accepted!


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