Recycling Solar Glasses After the Eclipse

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Plenty of people are rocking eyewear today with funky rectangular paper frames.

In peak demand for the Aug. 21 solar eclipse in North America, these specs are all about protecting the peepers. As you probably know, it’s not safe to look at the sun without appropriate eyewear. Regular dark sunglasses are not sufficient protection, according to vision safety information from NASA and the American Astronomical Society.

ECLIPSE GLASSES. PHOTO: SPACE SCIENCE INSTITUTE/NATIONAL CENTER FOR INTERACTIVE LEARNING

With the buzz about the exciting event darkening the daytime sky, eclipse glasses equipped with solar filters have sold out at retail stores and online vendors. Some variations are plastic. Others are bamboo. Lots feature relatively inexpensive paper frames.

About 2.1 million paper versions provided by Space Science Institute/National Center for Interactive Learning in partnership with other organizations were distributed by thousands of libraries in the United States. American Paper Optics in Tennessee sent out a press release stating that the firm would be working to produce 100,000,000 pairs of eclipse glasses. American Paper Optics is among various vendors with products meeting safety standards as listed on the American Astronomical Society website.

After enjoying the eclipse experience, lots of observers are likely deciding what to do with their solar glasses. Here’s what you should know:

Recycling

  • Remove the protective solar-filter lenses before tossing paper frames into the recycling bin. While recycling rules vary in different regions, if the frames are paper or cardboard, they’re likely acceptable with other paper recyclables, according to Patrick Morgan, recycling specialist for Oregon Metro in Portland. The solar filter doesn’t belong in traditional household recycling, he says. Most paper products are recyclable, unless they feature a moisture-resistant coating, such as frozen food packages.
  • Toss out the solar-filter lenses. Or perhaps phone a camera store that processes film and ask if they recycle that type of film, suggests Brooks Mitchell, education coordinator for the nonprofit Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo.
  • Trash unwanted plastic frames, which likely would not be acceptable with traditional plastic recycling, says Morgan and other recycling representatives.
  • For any questions, phone your local recycling authority.

Solar eclipse. Photo: NASA.gov

Reusing & Repurposing

  • Display the glasses as a souvenir. Mitchell says he’ll likely hang them on his bulletin board. The glasses, he says, will serve “to remind myself of the awesome celestial experience.”
  • Depending on the style and instructions, the eclipse glasses may be reusable, at least for a limited time, as long as the protective filter is not scratched, punctured, torn or damaged in another way. Read instructions printed on or packaged with the glasses. Because the glasses are so inexpensive, some solar observers say you should avoid the risk of saving an older version for the future, even if the packaging does not specify a time limit. (By the way, the next total eclipse in the United States rolls through the sky April 8, 2024.)
  • Astronmers Without Borders and partners are launching a project to distribute eclipse glasses to schools in South America and Asia for eclipses in 2019. Information about where to submit glasses is going to be featured on the organization’s Facebook page.
  • For an extra effort to repurpose the glasses, ask officials at schools, libraries and recreation programs if they want them for astronomy activities, says Irene Pease, board member of the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York.
  • Be innovative. “I wouldn’t mind a pair of eclipse-filter earrings … as an astro-fashion statement,” Pease says.
  • Kristan Mitchell, executive director of trade association Oregon Refuse & Recycling Association, says the glasses are so dark, she may devise a way to repurpose them as a sleeping mask.

Image: Shutterstock

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Patti Roth

Patti began her writing career as a staff writer for the South Florida Sun Sentinel. Still based in Florida, Patti serves as editor for Fort Lauderdale on the Cheap. She regularly writes about environmental, home improvement, education, recycling, art, architecture, wildlife, travel and pet topics.