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3 Genius Ways to Give New Life to Old Glasses

Your old eyeglasses don't belong in a landfill. Give them new life with these three ideas.

young boy wearing glasses

It’s not just your imagination—your eyes really may be playing tricks on you.

Americans love their eyewear. In the United States today, there are more eyeglasses than people. Counting prescription glasses, sunglasses, and over-the-counter readers, there are more than 400 million pairs of specs floating around. Last year, we collectively bought 75 million new pairs of glasses! 

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, people in developing nations are desperately in 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What to do with all your outgrown, outdated, and unwanted eyewear?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.

#1: Bring Them Back to America’s Best 

We’re all familiar with the bright blue-and-yellow Lions Club International donation boxes—many of which are located at your local America’s Best Contacts & Eyeglasses. 

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. 

If your neighborhood America’s Best doesn’t have a collection box, you can still help. 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 13 Lions Club eyeglass-recycling donation center locations. These centers clean, sort, and ship donations.

Ready for NEW glasses? Check out our new collections!

#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

A pair of simple specs can make all the difference. A 2018 study of working men and women in India published in The Lancet Global Health found that wearing glasses increased workers’ productivity by 22%, which in turn helped the workers boost their income. 

“Every year, we distribute about 240,000 pairs of used glasses to people in very rural areas in more than 37 countries,” says Jean Gajano, executive director of New Eyes for the Needy. “For the folks who receive them, it’s a life-changing experience. Imagine a woman who makes her living by doing handicraft work, like embroidery or weaving. When she reaches 40, she can’t see up close anymore. But when you give her a pair of glasses, you give her back her livelihood.”

New Eyes receives about 275,000 donations annually, and the vast majority of them are distributed abroad. “We love to get sunglasses, too,” Gajano explains. “There’s always a need for them in poor countries near the equator, where the sun is quite strong.” 

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 New Eyes, 549 Millburn Ave., PO Box 332, Short Hills, NJ 07078. Include your email address to receive acknowledgment of your donation.

#3: Get Your Craft On

There’s another way to keep your old, scratched, or broken specs out of landfills: Channel your inner craft goddess. 

Kristen McDonnell is a knitter who loves to share her designs on her Studio Knit YouTube channel. Recently, 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. (Step-by-step instructions are 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!

Bonus Idea: If You’re Really Feeling Generous

Don’t have used eyeglasses but still want to help? America’s Best, through its parent company National Vision, partners with 20/20 Quest and Frames for the World to collect new and unused eyeglass frames and lenses and distribute them to nonprofit organizations overseas. 

To date, more than 320,000 people have been helped. You can also send financial donations to the following address: 20/20 Quest, 2435 Commerce Avenue, Building 2200, Duluth, GA 30096.

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