The movement for environmental change is no secret and consumers want you to provide a green option.

We all know action is needed. The amount of plastic in existence is set to double by 2035 with a growing proportion finding its way into our natural environment. The combined weight of plastic in the ocean will quadruple in the next twenty years – a staggering thought once you’ve seen the trails of plastics washed up on our shorelines this year alone.

Yet, whom the responsibility for action falls on is under constant debate. Should it be the consumers who are driving the businesses to change? Or is the responsibility on the businesses to provide a solution that allows the consumer to make responsible choices, as, after all, we are the ones providing the goods and services.

The optical industry is not exempt from this. Of the multi-millions of glasses sold every year, each has its own footprint of plastic lenses, varnishes, microplastic particles and virgin plastic frames, on top of the single-use plastic packaging added at almost every stage of the supply chain.

The push from the consumer demanding these alternatives can be seen in two ways: as an inconvenient hurdle or as a positive opportunity. A recent survey by Futerra (an independent change agency) found 88% of consumers involved want brands’ help in making these sustainable choices, so why would you want to disappoint the majority of your market?

That same survey showed that 96% of the population believe that they, as an individual, have the power to make a difference. That being said, it is no mean feat. As we move through the 21st century, terms such as eco-friendly, recycled, bio-based and so on are becoming routine in the market place and there has been a significant increase in consumer awareness regarding making ‘the most sustainable choice’.

Consumers are also becoming more savvy, but navigating through the minefield of ‘green washing’ (deceptively claiming that a product or service is good for the environment in order to gain more business; for an example look to ‘biodegradable’ plastics) is hard work. We ourselves struggled and, if a committed and environmentally aware group of marine biologists found it incredibly challenging, how could we expect the rest of the population, struggling with the constraints of everyday life, to make the right choices to reduce their impact?

This drove the creation of Waterhaul as we saw a huge problem, both in the physical plastic pollution in our oceans but also in the barrier to sustainable consumerism. Abandoned fishing gear by weight makes the single greatest contribution to the amount of plastic in the ocean. Here in Cornwall, we see this first hand – with an inundation of nets, ropes and plastic hitting our shores every winter, and increasingly year-round. The abundance, strength and risk of entanglement make this material a lethal threat to marine life. The problem was clear, the solution, however, less so.

With Waterhaul, we recover fishing nets from the coastline and turn this perceived waste into a resource. Nets are mechanically shredded, washed and recycled, before being injection moulded into eyewear frames. The frames are produced entirely from fishing nets, without the addition of other polymers. We use both polypropylene and nylon nets to produce our frames and these recycled materials have a carbon footprint saving of 80% and 97% respectively, compared to virgin polymers. Once made into eyewear frames, the process becomes entirely circular – with old, damaged or unwanted frames recycled into new ones.

We know how hard it is to navigate the sustainability minefield and so we’ve done the heavy lifting (literally) and created a sustainable option in the optics world. The frame is just one part of the puzzle, but from fishing net frames to contact lens recycling, the market is changing. To answer our original question, is all of our problem. We have seen the push from the consumers for change and now together as an industry we need to step up and facilitate it.