Study Shows Environmental Impact of Disposable Contact Lenses

Nearly 20% of U.S. contact lens wearers flush their disposable lenses down the toilet or drain when done with them, a recent study has shown. Those 2-3 billion contact lenses then become 20-23 metric tons of wastewater-borne plastics polluting the earth annually.

Arizona State University scientists are reporting the first nationwide study that shows how consumers, by discarding used lenses down the drain, may be unknowingly contributing to plastic pollution.

According to the study, lenses that are washed down the drain end up at wastewater plants and then in sewage sludge. For about every two pounds of wastewater sludge, a pair of contact lenses typically can be found. Sewage sludge is routinely applied on land for sludge disposal and soil conditioning, thereby creating a pathway of macro- and microplastics from lenses to enter terrestrial ecosystems where potential adverse impacts are poorly understood.

ECPs can help make their contact lens patients aware of the environment impact of disposable plastic lenses (even if not flushed, the lenses and blister packs end up in landfills) AND help them recycle the materials instead of throwing them away.

The Bausch + Lomb One by One contact recycling program, now in its second year, allows ECPs to help their patients recycle their used contact lenses and blister packs. The program provides practices with receptacles for their patients’ contact lens waste (or, patients can recycle via an at-home program). The lenses, blister packs, and foil tops are then collected and recycled through a partnership with TerraCycle.

The One by One program is approaching the 3 million mark in number of contact lenses recycled—and removed from our country’s waste stream.

To read about how one ECP has successfully implemented this program in her practice, click here.
—Susan Tarrant
Shown here: The One by One program resources that are available to ECPs to use in their practice.