The Eyeglass Recycling Center (ERC) located at the Wisconsin Lions Foundation Headquarters is one of only 18 such facilities in the world. A matching grant from Lions Clubs International Foundation helped establish it in 1994.
ERC serves to process used eyeglasses that are usually collected in containers placed in public places by Lions not only in Wisconsin, but in neighboring states as well. ERC provides special collection containers for local Club use.
The most usable glasses are those with intact frames and undamaged lenses. Lenses without frames are not used; eyeglass cases may or may not be used, but may help avoid damage in transit. Sunglasses can be helpful with peoples in hot climates and children’s glasses are particularly desirable.
On average, 800,000 used glasses are received each year. Each pair is visually inspected, usable pairs are then cleaned, the prescription read by special equipment, categorized (there are 49 categories by gender and prescription), packaged in plastic, labeled, sorted, boxed and put into inventory.
Six satellite processing centers sponsored by local Lions Clubs and staffed by member volunteers have been equipped and trained by ERC personnel to help spread the work. Additionally, two prison facilities participate (Oxford and Portage).
At any given time the ERC inventory available is about 125,000 pairs of glasses. These are provided without cost to sponsors of Vision Mission projects to developing countries. (Regulations discourage United States use.) Some mission groups are Lions, but there are many others, often including vision professionals.
The need is great. There are millions of people in the world today who need eyeglasses to see clearly. Globally, one child in four cannot see well enough to learn to read without glasses. By age 40, 90% of adults experience a decrease in the ability to read print and need eyeglasses.
Many developing countries lack the resources to manufacture quality lenses. The cost of imported eyeglasses is far beyond the means of the average citizen. Millions will fail to reach their economic, educational, and social potential without access to vision assistance. People in developing countries have been known to walk miles and miles to get their free eyeglasses.