It can be overwhelming thinking about everything we use that contributes to pollution. Unfortunately, contacts are one of the many day-to-day necessities that are not very eco-friendly. Contacts are made of plastic, and with that plastic comes a plethora of environmental issues.
A study by Arizona State University found that 20% of people who wear contacts flush them down the toilet or pop them into the drain after using them. At first glance, this may not seem like a problem. After all, contacts are tiny and transparent. What harm would silently getting rid of them like that do?
Their minuscule size is actually part of the problem. By the time the contacts end up at the wastewater treatment plants or on farmland, they are essentially a plastic glob. This sludge eventually breaks down and turns into microplastics which cause serious environmental and health problems for all animals – particularly marine life.
An estimated 14 billion contact lenses are thrown away each year. That is a soberingly high number of tiny pieces of single use plastic. To make matters worse, lenses are denser than water and end up sinking in the oceans they are pushed into. Bottom feeders might end up accidentally consuming the plastic shells.
Their transparency is also problematic and makes them difficult to detect, especially in wastewater treatment plants. Although wastewater treatment is designed to purify water, experts are unsure of how these treatments affect lenses. Contact lenses are usually made with poly, silicone, and fluoropolymers which allow the eye to breathe despite having a layer of plastic on top of it, not what the typical plastic ketchup bottle might be made out of.
As more and more lenses end up in the water, they are eventually consumed by marine life, who may then be consumed by humans, which brings the little convex plastics that help us see right back into our food chain.
The lenses themselves aren’t the only things that are harmful. Tiny plastic and foil packaging can’t be recycled. Therefore, it will always end up in a landfill, even if it’s placed in the recycling with the best intentions. There’s also the issue of contact lens solution since it always comes in a thick plastic bottle. While a small bottle here and a little bit of packaging there may not sound significant, the amount of each used by every contact-wearer around the world adds up very quickly.
How to be Better
The Bausch + Lomb ONE by ONE Recycling Program with Terracycle helps contact users do what’s best for the environment while still enjoying being able to see. Contact lenses, foil, and blister packs can all be recycled via this innovative program. It starts with eyecare professionals who register for the program and get sent recycling bins meant for the contacts, foils, and blister packs. When the bins reach capacity, the eyecare professionals can slap on the complimentary shipping label and send the recycling to Terracycle.
Glasses are also an easy eco-friendly alternative. After all, you don’t need to throw them out every day! You can also ask your optometrist about glass contacts or switching over to contacts that don’t need to be replaced daily.
There’s also Lasik surgery if you’re feeling super passionate about never having to buy another pair of glasses or contacts ever again!
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