What happens to 3-D glasses after you drop them in the bin at the theater?

Answers to your questions about the news.
Jan. 25 2010 6:36 PM

Are These 3-D Glasses Dirty?

What happens to your plastic frames when the movie ends.

3-D glasses. Click image to expand.
3-D glasses

James Cameron's Avatar continues its march toward box-office domination: As of this weekend, its sixth since being released, it's become the highest grossing film of all time (not adjusted for inflation). What happens to all those 3-D glasses after they've been used to goggle at floating mountains and blue aliens?

They usually get washed or recycled. There are a number of manufacturers battling for control of the 3-D market. Most of these companies make reusable glasses, though the market leader, RealD, primarily makes single-use spectacles. (RealD has also launched a line of reusable designer glasses.)

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Reusable glasses are generally collected in trays and then cleaned in a dishwasherlike machine (or, in some cases, in an actual dishwasher). IMAX Corporation has its own, proprietary washers that exhibitors are required to use on-site. Dolby Laboratories demands that theaters use a commercial-grade dishwasher. XpanD Cinema says that most of their exhibitors use commercial dishwashers, too, but that any kind of dishwasher and detergent is fine as long as temperature is kept below 140 degrees and you use a nonammonia cleanser. (Otherwise, you could damage the lenses' liquid-crystal display or discolor the plastic.) XpanD also says that some of its exhibitors, like the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood, have a staff member hand-clean each pair with a cloth and some light soap, whereas others choose not to clean the glasses at all—instead, they hand out individual disinfecting wipes to each customer.

RealD established a recycling program for its disposable glasses in November 2008 and has collection containers in each theater with a RealD screen. When containers are full, they're sent to a recycling center, where the glasses are cleaned using heat and other cleaning agents, checked manually and by machine for quality assurance, and then individually repackaged. In an April 2009 presentation (PPT) at the ShoWest exposition, the company noted that approximately 70 percent of theaters "actively participate" in the recycling program.

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Explainer thanks Joshua Gershman of Dolby Laboratories, Rick Heineman of RealD, Jackson Myers of IMAX Corporation, and Michael Williams of XpanD Cinema.

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Nina Shen Rastogi is a writer and editor, and is also the vice president for content at Figment.