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Eco Evolution: Sunglasses Made From Plastic Waste

François van den Abeele is proof that strong values can provide the framework for a winning business model.

An entrepreneur fueled by an eco ethos, van den Abeele was deeply concerned about ocean pollution. He was also convinced that consumers were more eager than ever before for sustainably made products.

Acting on that market insight and environmental concern, van den Abeele says he invested in research and development that led to a process in which plastic waste, fishing nets and ropes that would otherwise pollute the ocean are transformed into fashionable sunglasses.

He calls his line of chic shades Sea2See.

“Sustainability is almost inexistent in the eyewear industry where plastic is the main source of raw material,” reads a statement on the company website. “Sea2see is leading a change, hoping consumers will start understanding that waste can be transformed into premium products.”

Available at retail shops and online, Sea2See frames are handcrafted in Italy from 100% recycled materials, the company says. Still, the frame formulation only starts after a process that begins in fishing ports in Spain. There, according to Sea2See, fishing communities collaborate and deposit plastic waste, nets and ropes into containers. Every second day, Sea2See says it collects one ton of plastic waste. The company then processes the plastic at its facility, separating and selecting different types of plastic to be reused. Selected waste is recycled into reusable raw material that ultimately forms the frames of sunglasses. Some plastic is sold to companies that recycle, Metro reports.

“Sea2see is more than a product, it’s a statement that anybody can wear with pride, because sunglasses will not change the world, but people that wear Sea2see will,” the company says.

The shades don’t come cheap, typically costing somewhere between $98 and $122 on the company website. Nonetheless, their sustainability and hip style – cool and sharp without being overstated – can make them worth the splurge. The Smart 08 shone below is an example that we happened to dig especially.

While Sea2See isn’t poised to take over the promotional products industry tomorrow, the line is yet another bellwether of the way in which product development is evolving, fusing sustainability with high-quality end product. Both major brands and startups like Sea2See are propelling the evolution. Eventually, that momentum is going to exert greater influence on ad specialties, especially for distributors who focus on taking an agency approach to serving mid-level to higher-spend clients. Suppliers and distributors who tap into the sustainability momentum will be better positioned to succeed.