What to Do With Old Glasses: 3 Genius Ideas

Don’t toss your old specs. Put them to good use!

A child wearing glasses and smiling.

Americans love their eyewear. In the United States today, there are more eyeglasses than people. Last year, we collectively bought 224.2 million new pairs of glasses, including prescription eyeglasses, over-the-counter readers, and sunglasses! 

We trade up to brand-new eyewear every two years on average, according to the Vision Council, an industry group. That means millions of specs go into hiding every year—in drawers, under car seats, at the bottom of beach bags, or in pieces in landfills. 

That’s unfortunate. For one thing, there are people in desperate need of glasses that they just don’t have access to. And one thing landfills don’t need is more stuff. 

What to do with all your outgrown, outdated, and unwanted eyewear? Here are three great ideas.

Has it been a while since your last eye checkup? Now’s the time to book an appointment! 

#1: Find a Lions Club Dropbox 

We’re all familiar with the bright blue-and-yellow Lions Club International donation boxes. 

The Lions Club is a service organization with more than one million members around the world. One of their missions, Lions Recycle for Sight, helps those in need get the eyecare and eyewear that they desperately need but either can’t afford or don’t have access to.

The Lions Club accepts donations of prescription eyeglasses, sunglasses, and readers, although in the United States they’re only able to distribute sunglasses and readers. All other donations help individuals in developing nations. 

Carefully wrap your old frames in a padded envelope and drop them off at your local Lions Club. Or send them to any of the 12 U.S.–based Lions Club eyeglass-recycling donation center locations. These centers clean, sort, and ship donations.

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#2: Pay Them Forward 

Around the world, 13 million kids can’t complete their education simply because they can’t see well enough to learn. In rural China, for example, for every six kids who need glasses, only one can actually afford them, notes a report in the journal JAMA Ophthalmology

Instead of letting your old eyeglasses sit forgotten in a drawer, consider donating them to an organization that will pass them along to developing nations.

ReSpectacle is a nonprofit that collects used eyeglasses and loads them into their online database based on prescription so the glasses can be redistributed to underserved communities around the world. You can browse available glasses by prescription right on their website.

Here’s how to help: Grab all the old glasses lying around your house, from prescriptions to readers to sunglasses. Pick out the ones that are in good shape—no scratched lenses or broken frames. Unopened, unused, and unexpired contact lenses are also accepted.

Then just wrap them up in a padded envelope and mail them to ReSpectacle, 529 2nd Street, Suite 100, Hudson, WI 54016. 

#3: Turn Them Into a Craft

There’s another way to keep your old, scratched, or broken specs out of landfills: Turn them into a masterpiece.

If you don’t consider yourself an artist, try calling local schools and theater companies to see if they might need old frames for stage productions or art projects.

But if you do want to channel your inner craft goddess, follow Kristen McDonnell’s lead. She is a knitter who loves to share her designs on her Studio Knit YouTube channel. She was inspired to ditch the yarn when she realized that a couple of pairs of old specs were a blank slate just waiting for her creative touch. 

Inspired by fellow YouTubers known as The Girls With Glasses—two super-glitzy and glittery fashionistas whose signature look is their glamourous, vintage specs — McDonnell wanted to come up with a fun gift for these fabulous women. 

When she came across a drawer full of cheap reading glasses, McDonnell knew she’d found her inspiration. She scored the nose bridge of the glasses and covered the frames in sparkles. 

Then she found some vintage Vogue fashion photos featuring models in glasses. With a bit of trimming, she fit the pictures into the inside of the lenses, attached a hanger, and voilà! she’d made a perfect set of personalized holiday ornaments. (See the finished project here.)

“With those three pairs of discarded old glasses, I’d made six individual ornaments—I even kept a couple for myself,” McDonnell says. “I love discovering a surprising object and seeing what I can come up with.”

Other crafters have created fun, dangly earrings out of eyeglass arms and even chandeliers out of hundreds of discarded specs. As any quick Pinterest search will confirm: The sky’s the limit!