September 2015 Insight: A New Direction with Recycled Eyeglasses

I have recently returned from the First World Congress of Optometry. More than 2500 optometrists, industry professionals and scholars came together from 60 countries, in a city known for making big changes through smart and innovative choices. The event took place in Medellín, a city in Colombia known 20 years ago as “the most dangerous city in the world,” yet now is among the most innovative. In 2013, Medellín won the Wall Street Journal award for Most Innovative City, ahead of New York and Tel Aviv.
I left so inspired by my experience in Colombia. I visited a city that is no longer tied to the way life has always been done. VOSH should be the same. VOSH/International is a strong advocate of the WCO’s (World Health Organization) mission and I had a great experience learning more about the cause and how we can be more involved.  I had the opportunity to engage with representatives from the ministry of health in Colombia, IAPB (International Association for Prevention of Blindness), WHO, the Brien Holden Vision Institute, Optometry Giving Sight, and many more that, like VOSH, are advocating for healthy vision.
Along that line of thinking, and in support of these global organizations of which VOSH/International is a member, the Recycled Eyeglasses committee of the VOSH/International board, recommended the position statement below to the board at our last meeting.  This position statement is in support of the similar position statement on recycled glasses put forth by the IAPB almost 1 year ago.
This is a goal for all chapters to strive for, as a perfect VOSH mission should be always in support of sustainable eye clinics, optometry schools, and in country eye care providers. This won’t happen overnight, but it should happen over time in our fight against preventable blindness, especially due to uncorrected refractive error. As the saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day”.  But it was eventually built.



The purpose of VOSH position statement documents is to advise chapters and members and other stakeholders of positions adopted by VOSH INTERNATIONAL, in consideration of advice from leading experts.

September 2014, By VOSH Recycled eyeglasses committee

Position statement:

Each year, Eye Care Non-Governmental Organizations and Institutions are inundated with offers of recycled and used spectacles for the developing world.  VOSH recognizes the good intentions behind these donations, but advises that its members and other parties engaged in promoting eye health should no longer accept second-hand spectacles whenever possible for the following reasons:

Using recycled spectacles is not cost-effective

For the donating country:

  • The cost of supplying recycled spectacles is high due to collection, transport, cleaning, sorting and storage costs. This means that in real terms they cost far more than brand new ready-made spectacles as well as prescription spectacles made in a local facility.
  • Because recycled spectacles are second-hand, they may not last as long as new spectacles. Replacing them would be costly to the recipient, both in financial terms and in terms of the time it would take them to reach the nearest eye-care facility. Affordable, high-quality modern spectacles are readily available and are robust.

For the receiving country:

  • There is a high cost of clearance through customs, transporting, storage, measuring and labelling powers, or knocking out the lenses so that just the frames can be reused.
  • There is an expectation that donated spectacles should be given out free, but the additional cost of management and distribution has to be taken into account.
  • Bulk purchase of spectacles, or the frames and lenses needed to make up spectacles, is also possible through established outlets which brings down the price.

Everyone, regardless of their circumstances, has a right to clear, comfortable vision

  • Spectacle prescriptions are usually quite complex (consisting of spherical & cylindrical powers and axis & lens centration for each eye), making it very difficult to match the prescription of a donated pair of spectacles to a patients prescription. If we cannot find a patient with exactly the same prescription then the spectacles should not be used.
  • Recycled spectacles are often damaged or scratched, which makes them inappropriate for further use.

Everyone has a right to have spectacles that look attractive and fit comfortably

  • People all over the world want to look attractive. People with refractive errors, including children, often reject second-hand spectacles because they find them cosmetically unacceptable as they can look old-fashioned or out-of-date, or spectacles designed for males are being offered to females.
  • Because second-hand spectacles were prescribed for a particular individual, the frames can often be uncomfortable for another user simply because they don’t fit properly, even after adjustment.

Recycled spectacles can cause an environmental problem

  • Often massive quantities of recycled spectacles are collected only to be dumped as unusable, inappropriate stock – thus causing a major environmental problem in the recipient’s country.

Local facilities are being supported to provide appropriate low cost high quality eye care

VOSH believes that low cost high quality eye care should be available to all. There are Optical Workshops and Public Health Eye Care facilities in many countries providing high quality low cost modern spectacles and other eye health services. VOSH supports the training of a skilled workforce via its membership who are able to accurately prescribe, and reliably fit spectacles.