Optical Labs and a New Vision Council Task Force Explore Sustainability Solutions

Many labs across the U.S. have been grappling with the implications of sustainably processing waste materials at their labs. Bob Niemiec, senior vice president, of Eye Care Centers of America, a division of HVHC group, has been using high efficiency lighting, high efficiency heating and cooling and recycling process water wherever possible at the company’s huge, San Antonio, Texas lab.

Additionally, the ECCA facility is among a growing number of labs throughout the industry that is exploring new ways to recycle polycarbonate and plastic swarf from its surface generators more efficiently. Noted Niemiec, “We’ve made various attempt to recycle the swarf material with limited success due to the fact that it is not a pure material and is composed of poly, plastic and backside hardcoatings.” The lab is currently using a briquetter compacting system manufactured by Bazell Technologies, Niemiec said.

At Wal-Mart, Scott Pickering of the company’s Health & Wellness Optical Non-Store Operations, said the company’s optical laboratories have considerably reduced the amount of landfill waste by recycling using a “super sandwich” bale (see below), a more efficient way to store and transport recyclables. “We put bags of paper, plastic, and aluminum into our cardboard baler, compact until the baler is full, then make a bale of all the product which can be easily broken down and separated at the local MRF. We store the bales of recyclables on our parking lot, and when we have accumulated a truckload the recycler picks them up.”

But, Pickering noted, there is an opportunity to address swarf and processing issues in a broader way. As Jeff Endres, technical director at The Vision Council (www.visionsite.org), pointed out in a note to the group’s Lens and Lens Processing Division members in April of last year, “Did you know that the mechanical processing of just one polycarbonate lens can yield a volume of one liter of shavings, or swarf? Polycarbonate substrate, which now represents half of the lenses used in the U.S., comprises 50 percent to 80 percent of the volume of waste that lens laboratories send to landfills across America.”

Together, The Vision Council Lens and Lens Processing Technology Divisions have formed an exploratory committee or Task Force, led by Pickering.

Pickering told VM, “In our optical labs, our number one goal is to find reliable partners to recycle polycarbonate swarf. We have worked with recyclers in the past, but have not had a reliable solution for recycling this product. One year ago, we collaborated with key lens, consumables and equipment suppliers as well as other lab networks to form the Sustainability Task Force with The Vision Council, with the primary goal of finding a reliable solution for recycling swarf.”

He added, “The primary problem with recycling polycarbonate swarf is that swarf from 1.67 lenses has the same physical characteristics, looks exactly the same as polycarbonate swarf, and in most facilities is surfaced using the same equipment as polycarbonate but is not valuable to recyclers.

Participating in The Vision Council’s Sustainability Task Force to date include these companies, in alphabetic order: Bazell Technologies, Carl Zeiss Vision, Essilor of America, Inc, National Vision, Inc., NSL Analytical Services, Inc., Satisloh North America, Inc., Schneider Optical Machines, Inc., and Wal-Mart Home Office.

Pickering said, “Via the Task Force, we think our industry has an opportunity to work together to provide other solutions. Is there an appetite to look at other projects?”

Endres said, “The committee needs input from member companies and individual experts who wish to take part in finding winning solutions to this major waste stream problem.” The mission of the group is to provide a solution to keep polycarbonate swarf out of landfills in the U.S. The group is looking for participation from lens, equipment and consumable suppliers as well as labs and recyclers, while its goals are “to provide a reliable, profitable or cost-neutral and sustainable solution.”

Companies with expertise in polycarbonate lens processing, lens production, chemistry, waste stream handling or related knowledge, are encouraged to contact Endres at jendres@thevisioncouncil.org for more information and get involved. Volunteers are asked to commit to two to three in-person meetings and several web-based meetings throughout the year. The group will have its next formal meeting at Vision Expo West in the fall.