We know we have a plastic problem, it’s growing exponentially every day, and every day we find new reasons for why we have such a big plastic problem. Contact lenses help 45 million Americans see. Which is great, but what happens when we dispose of these contact lenses. Let’s take a look at the problems that contact lenses cause to the environment if they are flushed instead of recycled.
Disposing of contact lenses
ASU’s Biodesign Institute Center for Environmental Health Engineering recently did a study trying to find out what happens to contact lenses after they are no longer useful. Many contacts are only worn for one day and then disposed of. There are roughly 14 billion contact lenses used every year in the U.S., and of those about 20% end up being flushed down the drain or the toilet. That’s like flushing 22 metric tons of plastic down the toilet and into our oceans.
Problems with flushing contact lenses
You may not think that flushing lenses is a big problem, after all, they’re so small. However, contact lenses are made of very tough plastic that may be small in size, but big in resilience. Contact lenses will not break down with exposure to microbes, and the trip through the sewage treatment plant will only reduce them to even smaller pieces of plastic. Microplastics in the ocean are a major problem. Not only does it litter and suffocate the ocean floor, but also ends up being consumed by fish and other sea and marine animals, including birds.
How big is the plastic problem?
The problem with plastic is that we are just beginning to understand the gravity of it all. One thing we do know for sure is that it is fixable, we just need to be more mindful of how we dispose of things, from big trash items to tiny little contact lenses. Since the plastic problem is 100% caused by people, the problem is 100% fixable by people.
Recycling contact lenses
Most contact lenses, due to their size cannot be recycled. However, some manufacturers are taking responsibility for their products and creating contact lens recycling programs to reclaim the plastic. If you want to make sure that your contact lenses do not contribute to the plastic problem, find a manufacturer that will allow you to return the used lenses. At the very least, make sure you don’t flush used lenses down the drain or the toilet.
Sunrise Sanitation provides comprehensive waste and recycling services to your home, business, or job-site in West Virginia and Maryland.