The Best Sustainable Sunglasses – Our Eco Friendly Picks

As spring and summer approach and the bright sun returns from its winter nap, you might be in the market for a new pair of shades. This guide to the best eco-friendly sunglasses has you covered! 

When considering the sustainability of a pair of sunglasses, it’s helpful to think of each pair as having three distinct parts: the lenses, the hinges and the frames. Sustainable frames on the market can be made of wood, cork, bio acetate, recycled plastic, and other recycled materials. Lenses are often outsourced to specialized manufacturers and can be made from glass or plastic, but are not yet made from recycled plastic. Hinges are commonly made of metal or recycled plastic. 

With so many different components, choosing an option can be tough. Here’s a breakdown of the pros and cons of these materials to help you with your choice, and some recommendations for sustainable shopping.

Recycled Plastic Sunglasses

Recycled plastic is a better alternative to virgin plastic, and companies like Good Citizen and Waterhaul (see brands below) have adopted new ways to repurpose discarded water bottles and fishing nets into sunglass frames. It’s important to note that recycled plastic lenses don’t exist yet, so any brand claiming their sunglasses are 100% recycled is likely just referring to the frames. 

Pros: Recycling diverts plastic out of the waste stream and repurposes it into a new product, and recycled plastic is estimated to produce roughly 70% less carbon emissions than virgin plastic.   

Cons: Recycled plastic is still petroleum based and will take eons to biodegrade. For something like sunglasses that can accidentally end up at the bottom of lakes and rivers, being biodegradable is a plus. 


Bio Acetate Sunglasses

To understand bio acetate, let’s take a look at its older cousin, regular acetate. Acetate is a thermoplastic long used in sunglasses frames, replacing real tortoiseshell when that started getting scarce in the early 1900s. It is a cellulose-based material, made from cotton seeds or wood pulp that is reacted with acids and then plasticized with a petroleum-based product containing toxic phthalates. Bio acetate is a greener take invented by the Italian company Mazzucchelli 1849, subbing the last petroleum step for a more bio-based plasticizer.

Pros: Bio acetate is petroleum free, hypoallergenic, and mimics the durability and flexibility of petrol plastic. And unlike regular acetate, or virgin/recycled plastic, bio acetate biodegrades more easily.

Cons: The plasticizer used in bio acetate is only “mostly” from renewable sources, and is only ~68% bio based. Bio acetate still takes a lot of energy and chemicals to produce, and the actual biodegradability of the material is not certain, with estimates between 1 and 10 years in a landfill or roughly 115 days in an industrial composter. 


Wood Sunglasses

Wooden sunglasses can be made from a variety of wood, most commonly walnut, ebony wood, cork, bamboo, maple or redwood. Wooden frames are very lightweight and will often float in water, which is a plus for water sport enthusiasts. Many hardwoods are very durable on their own, but cork frames are often mixed with recycled or virgin plastic to enhance strength. 

Pros: Wood from sustainably managed forests with FSC -Certification or upcycled/reclaimed wood is your best bet. 

Cons: Wood is biodegradable, but look into other ingredients used to seal the wooden frames; these can be plastic based. 


Recycled Metal Sunglasses

If you’re looking for a classic pair of aviators, chances are you’ll run into some recycled metal frames, often made from aluminum or titanium. 

Pros: Metal is durable and doesn’t release harmful phalthates when disposed of, and it can often be recycled. Aluminum and steel can be put in mainstream recycling, but titanium has to be recycled at a special facility. 

Cons: It is resource-intensive to recycle metal, much more so than plastic or glass, and only some forms can be easily recycled


Vintage or Thrifted Sunglasses

Secondhand is always the most sustainable route to go! Scout out a pair of unique frames at your local thrift shops. Or check out Peep Eyewear below, a company that refurbishes vintage and used sunglass frames with new lenses.   


Our Picks for Sustainable Sunglasses

(please note: some affiliate links are used in this post which means we may get a small commission)

Good Citizens

Sustainable sunglasses made from recycled plastic bottles - Good Citizens
Image credit: Good Citizen

Good Citizens is a Sydney, Australia based family brand — inspired by their children — dedicated to turning trash into treasure. They make stylish modular frames that can easily be repaired yourself. Each pair uses the plastic of exactly one recycled water bottle sourced from recycling centers around Australia. The frames are manufactured in their small factory in Sydney, with lenses sourced from Carl Zeiss Vision. 

💚 Our founder Erin just got a pair of their Bronte sunglasses. She loves the style and unique modular design.

Pricepoint: $99 – $139 

Values: Recycled materials, made in Sydney, transparent supply chain, built to last, easily repairable, gives back

Materials: Frames: recycled plastic bottles; Hinges: recycled plastic; Lenses: CR39 plastic. Lenses are made separately by Carl Zeiss Vision and it’s not indicated whether they are recycled.

Specs: 100% UVA/UVB protection, polarized lenses, prescription lenses available

Availability: Based in Australia, ships worldwide


Genusee

Eco friendly sunglasses made from recycled plastic bottles in Flint, Michigan - Genusee
Image credit: Genusee

Genusee is a Flint, Michigan based eyewear brand using recycled water bottles from the Flint water crisis to make simple, elegant frames. They aim to provide jobs to Flint residents returning to the area. 

Pricepoint: $99

Values: Closed loop, gives back, fair wage, Flint-first hiring, recycled/plastic-free packaging, buy back program, most of supply chain within 188 miles 

Materials: Frames: recycled plastic bottles; Hinges: metal (from Italy, not recycled); Lenses: CR 39 plastic 

Specs: UVA/UVB protection, prescription lenses available 

Availability: Based in USA, ships worldwide


Peep Eyewear

Upcycled and refurbished vintage and secondhand glasses - Peep Eyewear
Image credit: Peep Eyewear

Peep Eyewear is a UK-based brand that refurbishes a wide variety of vintage and preloved frames and gives them new life with new lenses (or a new lens on life?!). Peep partners with Trees for the City to plant a tree for every purchase.

Pricepoint: £66 – £156

Values: Secondhand lenses, gives back, accepts donated frames to upcycle, FSC Certified recycled paper packaging, 100% recycled plastic cleaning cloths, family-run small business 

Materials: Frames and hinges: variety of secondhand materials; Lenses: plastic and glass (no information online about lens sourcing)

Specs: 100% UV protection, customizable lenses, prescription lenses available 

Availability: Based in the UK, ships worldwide 


Pala

Sustainable sunglasses made from bio acetate - Pala Eyewear
Image credit: Pala

Pala is a UK-based brand that makes fashionable shades from bio acetate. The company partners with TerraCycle to take back old frames for recycling, but most of their frames are made with new materials rather than recycled materials. As of now, the brand is trying to apply circular economy principles, which we applaud, but they self-admittedly have more they could do. Pala donates to eye care centers across Africa through partnering with Vision Aid Overseas.

Pricepoint: £110 – £130

Values: Circular economy, some plant-based materials, plastic- free packaging, transparent supply chain, B corp, gives back

Materials: Frames: bio acetate, 64-68% plant based; Hinges: metal; Lenses: plastic, 39% plant based 

Specs: 100% UVA/UVB protection, 39% plant resin lenses 

Availability: Based in the UK, ships free worldwide


GROWN

Sunglasses made from sustainable and reclaimed wood - GROWN
Image credit: GROWN

GROWN is a sunglasses company based in Australia that constructs their frames with sustainably managed wood — either from FSC Certified sources or fallen trees. They use a variety of woods including bamboo, zebrawood, ebony, Canadian maple and redwood. With every purchase, GROWN donates diagnostic eye examinations to 12 children or sight-restoring surgery to one person.

Pricepoint: $100 – $200

Values: Sustainable materials, gives back

Materials: Frames: FSC Certified wood; Hinges: stainless steel; Lenses: acetate

Specs: 100% UVA/UVB protection, polarized lenses 

Availability: Based in Australia, ships worldwide


Waterhaul

Sustainable sunglasses made from recycled fishing nets - Waterhaul
Image credit: Waterhaul

Waterhaul, based in the UK, converts fishing net ocean pollution into sunglasses frames with scratch-resistant glass lenses. Fishing nets are sourced from waters around England and Wales.  Waterhaul donates some proceeds to mangrove restoration initiatives and directs an outreach program that teaches schools and communities about plastic pollution and recycling.

Pricepoint: £60 – £75 

Values: Recycled materials, recycle & replace guarantee, plastic-free packaging,  gives back

Materials: Frames: 100% recycled fishing net plastic; Hinges: metal; Lenses: polarized mineral glass 

Specs: 100% UVA/UVB protection, polarized lenses, prescription lenses available 

Availability: Based in the UK, ships worldwide


Any eco-friendly sunglasses we missed?

  1. Chris S
    | Reply

    Such a helpful piece! All the right info in one place! Especially interested in the Genusee company since I’m in Michigan. The wood frame people’s companies interest me as well.
    Thank you!

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