Space

You don't have to throw away your solar eclipse glasses

With millions of solar eclipse glasses being used, one group is working to keep them from ending up in landfills.

A young boy holds solar eclipse glasses to his eyes.
Associated Press
SMS

As millions of Americans purchase safety glasses for the April 8 total solar eclipse, you might be wondering what to do with those glasses when it's over. 

One option is to keep them. There will be several partial solar eclipses later in the decade that will be visible from the United States. But with no other total solar eclipses on the horizon for the U.S. until 2044, you may consider having them recycled. 

The group Astronomers Without Borders would love to take your leftover solar eclipse glasses. The group is working with groups across the U.S. to obtain gently used glasses to distribute around the world. 

Warby Parker will be collecting used solar eclipse glasses throughout the month of April. Astronomers Without Borders is also working with the organizers of events throughout the U.S. to obtain the glasses. 

The small group of five employees has already had a worldwide impact. 

"The power of the night sky, the awe and wonder, really brings people together," said Andrew Fazekas, communications manager for Astronomers Without Borders. "That's kind of a big part of our mission and it's a peace-building kind of effort that we believe in that the night sky has that power to break down borders, gender, political, geographical, all religious, it just breaks down those allows people to come together with that shared vision of what they have. The night sky kind of humbles you. So we said, wow, what's more humbling than an eclipse?

"If we can collect as many glasses as we can and then distribute them, it's connecting people through space and time, from one eclipse to the next."

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The program started by the group simply buying eclipse glasses and sending them throughout the world. But with the 2017 solar eclipse, Astronomers Without Borders saw an opportunity to keep millions of these glasses from ending up in landfills. 

That means the very same glasses you use in the United States for the upcoming eclipse could be used by someone in another continent to view the very same phenomena. 

After the last total solar eclipse visible from the U.S. in 2017, the group obtained over 3 million solar eclipse glasses from Americans and distributed them throughout the world. 

In 2020, Astronomers Without Borders partnered with the State Department to distribute solar eclipse glasses to parts of Ethiopia. The group was able to get the glasses dropped off as part of the State Department's shipment of COVID-19 supplies. 

Scientists used to say that solar eclipse glasses could only be kept for three years. But now, NASA says that as long as glasses don't have any scratches, they can continue to be used over and over again. 

Once collected, the glasses will be vetted for safety. Those that are in good shape will be stored away until the next solar eclipse. 

Since solar eclipses, whether they be partial or total, generally occur somewhere in the world once every six months, there are plenty of opportunities for Astronomers Without Borders to provide glasses to underserved regions. 

The mission of providing eclipse glasses is personal to Fazekas. 

"For me, what really gets me going is to have children in these far-off places so distant from where I am being able to experience that natural wonder, be it a constellation, a meteor shower or a solar eclipse, lunar eclipse, whatever it is and understand what they're seeing, learn a few tidbits our world and our place in the universe," he said. "It can be a life-altering thing and who knows what those children will become and how that experience may alter their for the better?"

In addition to Warby Parker, several other sites will be accepting leftover eclipse glasses. The list is available on Astronomers Without Borders' website.