The Zero Waste Coffee Project

Sustainable Eyewear from spent coffee grounds. OCHIS, Ukraine

You might have heard about some of the ways we can recycle used coffee grounds, i.e., using them as a fertilizer or a base for body scrubs. This Ukrainian brand has taken coffee upcycling one step further and created the world’s first coffee-based eyewear frames.
Ochis (pronounced oh-cheez) dates back to 2018 when their co-founder Max Havrylenko decided to find a new sustainable material for making glasses. As a son of two opticians, he had a lot of experience working with various brands as a repairman and quickly learned of all the strengths and weaknesses the common materials had to offer. Being sure that eyewear was his life's work, he began the experimentation period to create something truly unique. His firm belief that plastic causes irreparable harm to the planet made him go nose-deep into searching for an environmentally friendly material. And it wasn’t easy.
In his early attempts to create an alternative to plastic, Max used a combination of cellulose acetate and cork. These frames looked cool, but they still lacked the spark that makes inventors shout "Eureka!" He still wanted to achieve something more unique. Then Max figured out that natural raw materials might suit his purposes — something daily and simple could get a new lease on life. Moreover, a natural material would make production even more sustainable. There were long months of pressing everything that caught his eye at home and in supermarkets — parsley, rice, cinnamon, turmeric, rosemary, various seeds...
Some of the materials turned out to be unsuitable for creating frames, some were kind of okay, but one insoluble problem remained: all these resources could be used for cooking instead of being "wasted" on glasses. The ideal material had to be a by-product, something unusable — and then glasses would give a new life to otherwise useless waste. Creatively, this was tough. Max still couldn't put the puzzle pieces together, although it seemed that the answer should be absolutely obvious. After a couple of weeks of fruitless reflections, when it seemed that the solution would never come, an incredible thing happened: Max's girlfriend at the time came to his workshop and suggested trying coffee grounds.

Spent coffee grounds, the basic material for the frames

It was an incredible feeling of joy, inspiration and motivation at the same time! All the stars finally aligned: yes, the glasses definitely had to be made from used coffee. It's a free natural by-product that smells good, looks great in black color and has thousands of fans all over.

Feeling elated, Max began the endless pressings and improvements. It took him 300 test plates to make a base sturdy enough for cutting out the frames, and even then, the first samples of glasses crumbled in his hands. But persistence and a sense of purpose pushed him forward, and six months later, the first prototype of the future Ochis was created.

Final polish of a frame

After a successful Kickstarter campaign, the brand finally started growing, opened up its own production site and started improving the technology behind the coffee glasses. Unfortunately, all that happened just a week before the COVID-19 quarantine hit Ukraine, so the brand was off to a rough patch.
Currently, the production process looks something like this: Kyiv’s coffee shops give their used coffee grounds to the production team. The raw material dries up and gets mixed with natural oils to form a new plant-based compound that is waterproof, has a matte texture and keeps the coffee aroma for months to come. The formula remains a secret. Thanks to the unique production technology invented by Max, each frame is a combination of functionality, design and green innovation, making all Ochis eco-conscious, ergonomic and universal — a sustainable staple accessory and a new word in the sphere of optics.

Ochis sunglasses

The company finds it crucial to combine the high quality of eyewear with practical and timeless design. Being environmentally conscious and aware of the pollution traditionally brought on by the optical industry, Ochis wanted to put forward a new type of glasses: eco-conscious, ergonomic and universal — a sustainable staple accessory. They firmly believe that design is only as good as it is sustainable. The glasses are photodegradable (they technically don't fall under the biodegradable category because of their breaking down speed). So it's a degradable biopolymer that is entirely safe for the environment.
Despite the full-scale war waged on Ukraine by Russia in February 2022, Ochis continue working. A part of the team has relocated to Berlin, but the production is still Kyiv-based, meaning that the company defies constant electricity cuts and air raid alerts. This also disrupted the supply chain for a while back in spring, but new solutions had to be found quickly.

The Ochis team in November 2022. In the back the two co-founders: production head Max (middle, with turtleneck) and creative director Akim (with glasses))

Now Ochis is back to shipping worldwide and even had a new collection come out in summer of 2022. The capsule "Tsvit" (meaning ‘bloom’ in Ukrainian) is dedicated to Ukraine’s resilience in the face of a brutal war on its freedom and identity. It was born as a way to preserve the beauty of their native land by combining used coffee grounds and Ukrainian field flowers in a single frame. Each frame and case in this collection is covered by three different flower petal options. The yellow sunflower stands for the unshakable will ('volya' in Ukrainian). Red marigolds represent infinite strength (syla). The blue cornflowers symbolize beauty (krasa). Each pair is unique thanks to the unpredictable ways that the patterns reveal themselves through the process of polishing.

The Tsvit capsule: the symbol of Ukraine´s resilience

Ochis continues to feel hopeful about the future of coffee-based glasses with international interest spiking after their participation in the SILMO exhibition this fall. The production capacity is up to 100 frames a month, and Ochis are planning to release a new collection with fresh designs later in spring 2023.
If this story could teach us anything, it's that perseverance and the ability to dream big are crucial for any business, small or not. The impossible things become a reality if you keep fighting for what you believe in and care about the planet and the people who inhabit it. 
P.S. Please keep supporting Ukraine since the war is still not over. Ochis has its own guide to how to do that in the way you will find comfortable.
Author: Anastasiia Mishustina, Ochis communications manager, copywriter and freelance illustrator. 

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