What happens to those 3-D glasses after ‘Avatar’?

By Fabrice Coffrini, AFP/Getty Images
Director James Cameron holds up a pair of the 3-D glasses used at showings of his movie”Avatar.”

By Elizabeth Weise, USA TODAY

Laid end-to-end, the 3-D glasses worn by avid Avatar-goers since the blockbuster movie opened 46 days ago would reach from Los Angeles to Angmagssalik, Greenland — about 3,987 miles.

That’s a whole lot of plastic. With about 75% of people who see Avatar seeing it in 3-D, it works out to about 42.1 million pairs of glasses worn, or 935,834 a day.

Four companies provide 3-D systems for showing the wildly popular sci-fi epic in the USA: Dolby Laboratories, IMAX, Real-D and XpanD.

Each has a recycling program in place, for hygiene and to keep what would otherwise be a mountain of plastic out of landfill.

IMAX, which has about 2% of the 3-D screens showing Avatar, says its glasses can be washed up to 500 times. “When we put them through our glasses-cleaning machine, they come out as clean and sterile as they come out of a dishwasher in a restaurant,” says Brian Bonnick, the Canadian company’s vice president of technology.

Dolby and XpanD are the next-largest in terms of screens, though exact numbers are hard to come by. Dolby’s glasses are also reusable. Each gives theater owners instructions on how to clean its reusable specs.

“We have glasses that have been used and washed thousands of times without degradation,” says director of marketing Page Huan. “There’s no need to throw them away. They’re very environmentally friendly.” She says Dolby suggests exhibitors simply buy a commercial dishwasher and clean them with soap and high heat.

XpanD’s glasses also are built tough to be washed, though the company’s Michael Williams suggests keeping the dishwater temperature “under 120 degrees or you might have a little glob of plastic” come out at the end of the wash cycle.

The glasses, which require batteries and cost about $50 each, have built-in security strips,…

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