Feel-Good Waste of Time? Tell that to the recipients.
Virginia Postrel contributed an article to Bloomberg News that questioned the logic and efficiency of Eyeglass Recycling Organizations. Ms. Postrel makes some interesting and valid points concerning the cost efficiency of the programs already in existence. As the current Board President of one such organization I would like to share my thoughts on the matter.
Let’s assume I agree with Ms. Postrel’s referenced calculations and assumptions (I don’t but for this illustration, let’s say that I do). America, as a relatively wealthy society, replaces tens of millions of spectacles each year. Many of these glasses (MUCH more than 7%) are perfectly functional glasses in good shape with common optical prescriptions. There are studies, none were referenced, that suggest that as much as 2/3 of the worlds population would benefit from corrective lenses to improve their eyesight. Of that portion of the population, as much as one half of that either has no access to optical care or the cost of the care is such that it is a luxury that they could never afford.
Lions Clubs International is the largest service organization in the world. Lions clubs have dedicated themselves to be Stewards of the visually impaired. Because there are Lions clubs in virtually every community in the world, there are volunteers to contribute their time and efforts to collect and distribute eyeglasses.
One concern voiced by the article referred to the alarmingly low rate of useable glasses. “The researchers ran two real batches of donated spectacles through this process, checking a total of 275 pairs. A mere 23% of the recycled glasses passed the quick first check”. Really? They ran two batches totaling 275 glasses?!!! We have Cub Scout troops that volunteer to do fifteen times that amount in a couple hours. We average closer to 70% perfectly functional glasses in good working order. That total will be reduced again upon final screening to remove pairs that do not conform to our acceptable prescription range. The remaining glasses not deemed usable are transported to a metal recycling center that not only keeps the frames out of landfill sites, but they pay us for the recycled metals. Those funds can then be used for the manufacturing of children’s glasses in our warehouse and help pay our operational expenses which are kept quite low due to being a 100% voluntary organization.
The most compelling argument made in the Bloomberg piece, in my opinion, was the cost of transporting glasses. Using their model were you to mail, what was it, 275 pair of glasses at premium shipping cost ($78 per 100 pair), I agree, that is not cost affective. Who does that?! I can’t speak for every organization, but it is rare that someone would ship, by post, any quantity of bulk, un-sorted glasses. Our foundation has representatives all over the two state area that we serve. Each volunteer representative collects the donated glasses in one central location where they either deliver it to our warehouse or make arrangements for them to be collected.
Our warehouse manager takes a truck and trailer around a few times a year to collect as many as 100,000 + pair at a time for the cost of a couple tanks of gas and a motel room (less than a penny a pair).Our foundation, on average, collects about 750,000 pairs of donated glasses each year. From that we conduct about a dozen clinic trips per year where we provide a complete eye exam from licensed Optometrists to approximately 18,000 underprivileged patients in developing countries. On top of that, we just opened our 63rd Permanent clinic located in Kolkata, India. We start out each Permanent clinic with 100,000 pairs of bulk donated glasses and all the equipment and training needed to operate their own recycling clinic to serve their local community.
There may be more cost effective ways to do the things that we do. Bottom line, we have developed a worldwide network dedicated to providing perfectly functional medical devices to those who desperately need it and have limited access to it. There is an enormous demand for this service. We are barely scratching the surface of the worldwide need; there is plenty of room for additional organizations to provide a more efficient model. Please do so. At the same time please spend less of your efforts criticizing our process and discouraging our support.
President-Board of Directors
Lions In Sight Of California & Nevada