When you think of plastic pollution, you probably imagine discarded straws. And water bottles. And bags. Some folks are also focusing on something smaller — itty-bitty items millions of us use everyday. Contact lenses, when improperly discarded, likely create contaminating microplastics.
To help prevent microplastic pollution, responsible disposal is important. A free program is in place to help you recycle your used contacts.
Don’t Flush Used Contacts
That’s the advice from a trio of scientists at Arizona State University. They teamed up to study the effect of contact lenses that are washed down the drain or flushed down the toilet.
The study reveals that:
- Fifteen to 20 percent of contact lens wearers dispose of the lenses down the sink or toilet.
- With an estimated 45 million people in the United States wearing contacts, about 1.8 billion to 3.36 billion lenses are flushed per year.
- At wastewater plants, contacts likely are too small to be filtered out and removed.
“The study showed that wastewater plants fragment them into microplastics, which accumulate in sewage sludge. For about every two pounds of wastewater sludge, a pair of contact lenses typically can be found,” according to an article about the project on Arizona State University’s website.
Tossing used lenses in regular trash is preferable to flushing, explains Charles Rolsky, a Ph.D. candidate who worked on the research project. Even better, recycle.
ONE by ONE Recycling Program
Bausch & Lomb, which sells contact lenses, partnered with TerraCycle, which recycles unusual items, to launch the ONE by ONE program. The recycling initiative accepts used lenses from any brand. It also accepts empty blister packs and foils, which most curbside recycling programs are not equipped to process.
Since it was established three years ago, ONE by ONE has received about 16 million items to recycle. That represents more than 95,000 pounds of waste, according to information from Bausch & Lomb.
Contact lenses and blister packs are separated by composition and cleaned. The metal layers of the blister packs are recycled separately, while the contact lenses and plastic blister pack components are melted into plastic that can be remolded to make recycled products.” — TerraCycle
Contact Lens Recycling Information
Users may drop off their used lenses, blister packs, and top foils at participating optical offices. Or, send a year’s worth via mail with a free shipping label.
For the most efficient and eco-friendly approach, drop off used contacts and blister packs at a recycling station when you see your vision professional or at a participating eye care office in your area. If no recycling drop-off location is near you, save up about a year’s worth of contact lenses to send through the mail.
“[Drop offs are] more environmentally friendly overall as it saves packaging,” according to a Bausch & Lomb representative. “While we do offer free shipping labels to those who do not have recycling centers close by, we do try to limit this where possible since individual shipping can typically translate to more shipments with fewer recyclable materials, which has an impact on sustainability through transportation costs.”
Also, when dropping off your contact lenses and blister packs, do not include paperboard or cardboard packaging. You can usually include these materials with your other clean household paper recycling.
These links will help you get started:
- Find a recycling location or request a shipping label at the Bausch & Lomb website
- Find a recycling location on TerraCycle (this same location finder is on the Bausch & Lomb website)
- Encourage your vision professional to participate
This article was originally published on January 16, 2020.
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