contact lenses

Dhruvika writes on sustainable practices in various sectors for BuzzOnEarth. Get in touch with her at Sometimes she reads her emails too.

Contact lenses are a rage these days. An easy alternative to wearing spectacles all day. But they are made of plastic and there has been a growing concern regarding their responsible disposal.

The contact lenses are adding more to the staggering amount of ocean plastic. The small size of contacts leads to the misconception that it wouldn’t do much harm to the environment but sadly, this isn’t the case. There are more than 30 million contact lens users in the US alone.

Although the contacts are estimated to contribute only 0.5% of plastic in the ocean it’s still important to dump them properly. There are contacts which are needed to be disposed of daily and some are disposed of on monthly basis.

About 20% of the population that wears contacts flush their contacts down the toilet or wash down the sink which eventually ends up in waterways. The bacteria responsible for breaking down the biological waste at water treatment plants fail to biodegrade the contact lens plastic which results in environmental havoc.

“We discourage any kind of plastics because it can make its way through a treatment plant and end up in the receiving water,” said Vincent Sapienza, the commissioner of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection told The New York Times. Contacts… “have densities similar to water, so they don’t readily float or sink at wastewater treatment plants.”

According to a research by Charlie Rolsky, a PhD student at ASU, contact lenses could “contribute a load of at least 20,000 kilograms (44,000 pounds) per year.” He calculated that the packaging adds about 29 million pounds (13 million kilograms) of polypropylene to the waste from contacts.

The Lens Solution

Discarding the contacts in the solid waste bins instead of flushing down the toilet or washing down the sink can significantly cut down on the annual 0.5% of plastic in the ocean.

The plastic often breaks down into microplastic and enters the food chain through consumption by small fishes and phytoplanktons who mistake it for food.

Bausch & Lomb have started a recycling program for contact lenses in the US. They accept waste from other lens manufacturers as well as wearers. The lenses along with packaging are recycled in the program. Hopefully, other countries will follow suit.

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