Towards zero waste, one pair of shades at a time


Antwerp start-up w.r.yuma is contributing to a zero-waste economy with its line of 3D-printed sunglasses made from dashboards and old fridges

What goes around

One day we will look back at this time in history and shake our heads in disbelief about how wasteful we were. But change is coming, and Antwerp entrepreneur Sebastiaan de Neubourg is working on it.

De Neubourg launched a start-up that will launch the world’s first circular-economy sunglasses. His company, w.r.yuma, is named after the American city of Yuma, said to be the sunniest place in the world.

“Not only are our sunglasses made from recycled materials from old car dashboards and refrigerators, the glasses themselves are designed in a way that makes them easy to recycle at the end of their lifetime,” de Neubourg explains. “That’s the concept of a circular economy: waste becomes a thing of the past. We will encourage customers to hand their glasses back to us by giving them a discount on future purchases.”

De Neubourg is a sunglasses enthusiast himself, but the choice to produce them has another purpose. “Sustainability has to become a cool thing, not just something for people who care for the planet’s future. Sunglasses are a perfect tool to carry out this message,” he says. “It’s a common product with a high cool factor. I want to make sustainability trendy and fashionable and make people look differently at the issue of waste. Sustainability has to go mainstream, in the interest of the future of our planet.”

Keep it local

W.r.yuma’s production method uses 3D printing technology, and they are currently working with plastics from discarded car dashboards, drinks bottles and fridges. The glasses are polished and assembled by hand, to original designs. Local production is another important aspect of the circular economic model, so the company is working with Flexpack, a socially oriented workplace. It helps them keep the price down and create local jobs.

3D printing is an inspiring technology, de Neubourg says. “We’re looking at new, fascinating applications. For example, next summer we plan to print live at festivals, using discarded plastic cups as our raw material. People can have a drink, throw their cup in our machine and print a pair of glasses. Fishing nets and waste products from breweries are other possibilities.”

It’s a common product with a high cool factor. Sustainability has to go mainstream, in the interest of the future of our planet

- Sebastiaan de Neubourg

De Neubourg is not a newcomer to the world of sustainability and entrepreneurship. For five years, he has been working as a consultant for start-ups and new companies, giving advice on subjects like sustainability and the circular economy.

“Over the years, I’ve seen lots of interesting and inspiring projects passing by. Then there came a point when I wanted to be on the other side of the table, to start something myself,” he says. “W.r.yuma grew out of this drive. I tried to include as many of the concepts and ideas I had heard as possible. Co-creation, open source... By doing so, I hope to inspire other entrepreneurs to look differently at production and consumption, and to experiment with these new viewpoints.”

The first prototypes are as good as ready, he says. The next step is to take the project to crowdfunding site Kickstarter and sell the first 100 pairs. Then the company aims to develop other models and explore new materials.

The company, based in Antwerp, is about more than producing sunglasses, de Neubourg explains. “Printing is only one in a wide range of technologies available to help us move towards a zero-waste circular economy. We hope to inspire others to follow. It’s the story of the future, and Flanders has the potential to be a forerunner in the development of tomorrow’s technologies and production models.”