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Your next pair of glasses might be made from an unexpected material: 'Eyewear is a funny category'

"In the end, an optical frame is a medical device."

“In the end, an optical frame is a medical device."

Photo Credit: Marchon

There are many items that we use in our everyday lives that are made out of plastic but simply do not have to be. Among those are eyeglasses. Now, one company is looking into alternatives and has landed on a surprising one: beans.

Marchon, one of the world's biggest eyewear designers, is researching plastic alternatives and has discovered that one of the best options for glasses is an oil made from castor beans, the seeds of a tree that is primarily grown in India.

The resulting material looks, feels, and performs like regular plastic, but it is made from organic materials, unlike normal plastic, which is made from petrochemicals — chemicals often derived from dirty, nonrenewable sources such as oil or gas.

And even though plastic eyeglasses are technically recyclable, millions of pairs still end up in landfills every year, adding to the 400 million tons of plastic waste produced worldwide every year. That's why scientists are hard at work creating bioplastic alternatives.

"Eyewear is a funny category in the sense that the demand for the quality of materials is extremely high," Marchon President Thomas Burkhardt explained. "In the end, an optical frame is a medical device. It sits on your face for 12, 18 hours, it needs to be hypoallergenic, it needs to be resistant to heat and other external factors. We needed to find materials that are good enough to meet all of those demands."

But the castor bean oil glasses appear to do just that. Marchon has already started transitioning away from traditional plastic for its frames — in 2022, it produced a quarter of its products from recycled and bio-based materials. The company was on track to hit 35% for 2023, with a goal of 50% by 2025.

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