Billions and Billions of 3D Glasses: Will Biodegradable Frames Discourage Reuse?

old 3D glasses photo

Paper or plastic? Old school 3D glasses. Photo by Hacky via Flickr

It is estimated that if the 42.1 million pairs of 3D glasses used at theaters to watch Avatar were laid end-to-end, they would stretch more than 3,987 miles. Avatar and Alice in Wonderland each required more than 10 million pairs of 3D glasses to be shipped around the globe, resulting in emissions comparable to burning 50,000 gallons of gasoline or 917 barrels of oil. These aren't the old flimsy cardboard variety with red-and-blue cellophane lenses. They're plastic frames that look like cheap sunglasses. So what happens to those millions of pairs of plastic glasses after each screening of a 3-D movie? Are they tossed, recycled, or do you keep them?

3D glasses photo

New 3D frames. Photo by Canada Penguin via Flickr

In 2010, the five 3D movies screened already have met record success, and now more than one 3D movie per month will follow. Any damaged and unreturned pairs of the plastic glasses will end up in landfill.

RealD, the company that developed the technology for the current trend in 3D movies, started a recycling program for the glasses last fall to address this problem with cardboard containers at theater exits to deposit glasses. Most filmgoers do so. But some keep them, perhaps to reuse for the next 3D movie. Will they bring them back to a theater?

Both Dolby and RealD's recycling system collects the 3D glasses, puts them through industrial dishwashers, and sterilizes them to be reused by another customer. Is recycling the glasses better than reusing them yourself? But some IMAX theaters have anti-theft devices and the technology might improve. IMAX claims its glasses can be washed 500 times. That's about three to four months. Then what?

3d glasses by oculus photo

Biodegradable 3D glasses in blue not black. Photo courtesy of Cereplast

Enter: the first biodegradable/compostable 3D glasses made with bioplastic resins which should be available in theaters this summer. Oculus3D glasses, by Cereplast Inc., uses bio-based, sustainable plastic resins for the glasses. When discarded, the glasses will return to nature in less than 180 days with no chemical residues or toxicity in the soil.

If you cannot find a recycle bin to toss out your 3D glasses after the movie, see the manager and recommend the theater go green, says RealD. Or mail your 3D glasses to: RealD, 100 North Crescent Dr., Suite 120, Beverly Hills, CA 90210. (Will anyone?)


Recycle and reuse, biodegradable, or all of the above. Photo courtesy of RealD

Question is about recycling and reusing vs. biodegradable. The compostable versions will have to be shipped, too, so do they have the smaller footprint? Are they one-time-use only glasses or a great alternative?

There are biodegradable plastic credit cards, coffins, fishing lines, golf tees, t-shirts, shoes, and bed pans. How about making the glasses' plastic wrapping biodegradable? And how about recycling all those popcorn buckets and soda cups?

Do you re-use your 3D glasses and bring them with you the next time you see a 3D film?
Or do you drop them in the recycle bin?

More on biodegradable:
Biodegradable vs. Recyclable: Which is the Better Packaging
Is New Biodegradable Plastic the Answer?
More about 3D:
First Viewings of Sony's 3D T.V: Watch It Soon!
Kinko's for Kidneys: 3D Printing Your Own Body Parts
Flatpack 3D Printed LED Lamp By Dror Benshetrit

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