Now that “Avatar” has officially become the single highest-grossing film of all time, experts say you should expect to see a lot more 3-D movies coming to a theater near you. So that got us thinking: What happens to all those used 3-D glasses after they’ve been worn? According to USA Today, it all depends on which company made the glasses, because right now, there are four major companies who design 3-D glasses, and each one has their own policy for washing and recycling them.

  • The most common 3-D glasses are made by a company called Real-D. They collect used glasses in containers outside each theater, and when those containers are full, they’re sent to a recycling center in Los Angeles, which cleans and sanitizes more than 700,000 glasses per day! Then the glasses are checked for defects, repackaged, and sent back to theaters.
  • Next: If you see a 3-D movie in an IMAX theater, you’ll be wearing the cleanest glasses of all. That’s because IMAX requires all theaters to use special washing machines on-site, which are designed to clean and sterilize each pair of glasses up to 500 times.                    
  • 3-D glasses made by Dolby Laboratories are also washed after every use. However, their theaters use commercial-grade dishwashers – much like you’d find in a restaurant’s kitchen. That means cleanliness will vary depending on each theater.
  • Finally: 3-D glasses made by a company called XpanD Cinema tend to be the germiest of all. You’ll find those at Arclight Theater, and they contain sensitive electronics – like a built-in security strip and battery pack - that could be damaged in a standard washing machine. So, some theaters hand-wash each pair of glasses with a cloth and soap. Or else they’ll give out disinfectant wipes, and expect YOU to wash them.

The good news here is that about 70% of movie theaters actively recycle 3-D glasses. That’s great when you consider all the plastic used to make the glasses. In fact, laid end-to-end, experts say all the glasses worn for “Avatar” alone would stretch about 4,000 miles, creating a plastic path from Hollywood all the way to Greenland!