What could possibly make you a fashionista, yet an environment-conscious person? You guessed it right, pick a trendy sunglass made of eco-friendly material.
Sunglasses were always available in various materials, vis-à-vis, stainless steel, plastic, wood, and titanium. Except for wood, which is getting scarce, none are eco-friendly. The worldwide awareness of biodegradable waste has put everyone on high alert. The dangers of the notorious petroleum-based plastic to the environment are well known.
The latest innovation in eyewear that is enjoying popularity ride is Acetate sunglasses. Although this plant-based material was developed in 1865, it was introduced in the eyewear industry only in 1940. It is considered to be the second oldest human-made fabric after rayon.
In this article, we will analyze what are acetate sunglasses with their many advantages and disadvantages to understand whether it is eco-friendly or just greenwashing.
An Analysis of Acetate Sunglasses
- What is Acetate?
- How is Cellulose Acetate Made?
- Features of Acetate Sunglasses and Frames
- Acetate Sunglasses vs. Conventional Plastic Eyewear
- Is Acetate Eco-friendly?
- Is Acetate Sunglasses Eco-friendly or Just Greenwashing?
What is Acetate?
Acetate has gained popularity in recent years because of its versatile usage in many accessories and consumer products. It can produce jewelry, glasses, and sunglasses.
Interestingly, it is more used as a fiber in bridal and graduation gowns, lining, curtains, felt-tip pens, diapers, cigarette filters, and upholstery.
Acetate is formed from wood pulp and cotton after mixing with several chemicals. Then it is spun into fibers before hardened into a sheet or molded into shapes. We are also known as cellulose acetate (CA) or zylonite and was one of the first semi-synthetic human-made fabrics.
How is Cellulose Acetate Made?
It has a lengthy production process. Dry spinning is used to create the fibers from an acetone solution. The solution is filtered before being sent through a spinneret, which produces yarn filaments or slabs of acetate. The acetate is then squeezed with large rollers before being sliced into smaller pieces and pressed again with different colors.
Acetone and organic dyes are combined with clear pieces of acetate to create eye-catching patterns with brilliant hues of cellulose acetate.
Unlike the construction process for traditional plastic frames, the acetate manufacturing process takes longer because it involves blending multiple slabs rather than using a single plastic mold.
Although the production process is lengthier, it produces a superior quality product, creating the perfect material for fashion eyewear.
Features of Acetate Sunglasses and Frames
Besides being a plant-based eco-friendly component, acetate has some very prominent features that enable frames and glasses made from it to be superior to conventional plastic and much in demand in the recent past.
Durable: Many layers of plastic are first assembled into big blocks, after which individual components are cut, polished, and finally built into frames. Acetate gains its endurance from this procedure, making it robust to endure daily wear and tear.
Flexible: The acetate material has significant resilience because cellulose fibers bend quickly when subjected to force. Its flexibility contributes substantially to its durability. Investing in acetate sunglasses and frames is safe because they are durable and don't break easily.
Wide Choice of Rich Designs: They are processed from colored cellulose blocks that are then covered with multiple sheets; the colors and patterns are relatively more bright and intricate than conventional frames. The color of conventional plastic frames would fade away soon; whereas the color or pattern on an acetate sunglasses and frame lasts much longer because it is formed layer by layer.
Lightweight: Because acetate is a very lightweight material, it is ideal for eyeglass frames. Even if your spectacles have been on your face all time, you will not feel the weight, discomfort, or the need to readjust frequently.
Hypoallergenic: Acetate sunglasses frames are hypoallergenic, so they are comfortable to wear all day and are unlikely to irritate or react with your skin. It is an ideal frame material for anyone with sensitive skin.
Thermoplastic: Because of its thermoplastic characteristics, it can soften when heated and solidify when cooled. This attribute grants the bio-based component its reputation for being simple to handle.
Acetate Sunglasses vs. Conventional Plastic Eyewear
The foremost difference between the two is the production process.
Traditional plastic eyeglass frames are most often painted or sprayed with designs and colors. Because of the single layer of color or design, simple wear and tear causes this layer to fade away sooner than later. As a result, a plastic frame does not retain the design quality.
Acetate sunglasses, on the other hand, easily holds the designs since it comprises of several layers of colored block sheets. These multiple sheets serve as buffers, preserving the original color and texture of the frames.
Plastic frame color and pattern options are very limited. However, acetate offers a diverse range of finishes and colors. You can even achieve different levels of transparency by coloring only some layers.
Plastic frames are more fragile than acetate frames due to the difference in their manufacturing process. Acetate is a nylon-based plastic-like substance that is more resilient, malleable, and robust than conventional plastics. It is also more pressure-resistant and flexible enough to bend more before breaking.
Is Acetate Eco-friendly?
Acetate has grown in prominence in recent years as an eco-friendly alternative to plastic in the production of eyeglasses. One of the major contributions of acetate as an eco-friendly material was to replace tortoise shell that was used as eye frames. It practically helped prevent the extinction of Hawksbill sea turtles.
Cellulose Acetate is a soft and smooth fabric that is also known as the "silk" of synthetic fibers. It can be utilized as a substitute for wool and is often added to such fibers to lessen shrinking. Acetate is highly heating sensitive and therefore should be hand-washed and line dried, consequently helping to cut down energy use.
For a while, sunglasses were dangerously flammable. This issue was overcome by switching from the more combustible cellulose nitrate to cellulose acetate. Acetate sunglasses are considered safer.
CA is biodegradable, which is a big environmental benefit. According to one study, an acetate plastic cup decomposed over 70% in a sewage-like environment within 18 months. It would biodegrade much faster in a compost environment.
Plasticizers are frequently added to acetate to toughen its strength and stability. These are often petroleum-based and pose an environmental risk. Phthalates are the most commonly used plasticizers in conjunction with cellulose acetate and have been identified as a serious man-made pollutant.
Since cellulose acetate is man-made and hence a semi-synthetic substance, it contributes to the microplastic menace. CA enters the ocean via sewage and accounts for a substantial amount of the plastic particles observed in marine habitats.
The plus side is that it is feasible to recycle acetate, and some of the greenest businesses turn their acetate waste into other goods. Unfortunately, there aren't many areas where it is workable for people like us to convert it conveniently.
Although many plastics are technically recyclable, getting them to the proper recycling facility requires that the consumer sends them straight to a bio-recycling company.
Choosing a brand that lets you send the goods back to them directly for recycling and reprocessing is the ideal method to ensure that your acetate product can be recycled.
Is Acetate Sunglasses Eco-friendly or Just Greenwashing?
A report says films and fibers made of acetate, which are extremely thin and small particles, will gradually biodegrade. But they might degrade faster or slower depending on where they are discarded—in the soil, in water, in a landfill, or in the sunshine.
Moreover, it also depends on how it is unloaded. As evident from the production process, acetate is manufactured by combining wood pulp with several chemicals. Many of the ingredients are toxic and can be dangerous to the ecosystem, humans, and animals if it is unscientifically discarded.
Hence, when your acetate sunglasses finally biodegrade in the ocean, they will leak harmful compounds acquired from fossil fuels into the environment that is hazardous to marine life.
While cellulose acetate-based products are not the most eco-friendly options, they are undoubtedly superior to petroleum-based plastic.
When compared to fossil-fuel-derived materials, acetate is the lesser of the two evils. Although acetate is not a universal fix for the plastics menace, its advantages often make it a preferable option. But when it comes to instructions and product descriptions, it pays to be prudent.
You should choose a product that is superior, durable, and ageless because the best thing you can do with acetate is to maintain it in circulation for as long as humanly possible. This will delay the waste piling up.
Analyze the supply chain, including where the plant cellulose originates from, to ensure the product is bio acetate. And also check if you have a mechanism to recycle or return the finished product!