Purpose. Many programs aimed at mitigating the problem of uncorrected refractive error and the resulting avoidable blindness use recycled (donated) spectacles as a seemingly inexpensive expedient. This article analyses the costs and benefits of recycled spectacles and compares them with alternative methodologies. Although well intentioned, it is argued that recycled spectacles will neither suit many of those affected by uncorrected refractive error nor provide a cost saving solution to the problem. Although this is not the first argument against the use of recycled spectacles, there has been no accurate costing of their delivery. This article assesses the real cost of delivery of recycled spectacles.
Methods. The useable quantity of recycled spectacles was determined by examining two separate batches of donated spectacles. These data were used in the calculation of the cost of delivery. The metric used for comparison was only cost (i.e., it was a cost minimization analysis) because it was deemed that recycled spectacles and ready-made spectacles were the same mode of correction fundamentally.
Results. Only 7% of the 275 recycled spectacles analyzed were suitable for use. The relatively small proportion of useable spectacles contributed to the high societal cost of delivering recycled spectacles, which was found to be U.S.$20.49, more than twice the cost of supplying ready-made spectacles.
Conclusions. Recycled spectacles are not a cost-saving method of correcting refractive error and should be discouraged as a strategy for eliminating uncorrected refractive error in developing countries.