Many wearers of contact lenses never thought about how to dispose of their contacts after wearing them. This leads to an incredible amount of contact lenses being flushed down the toilet and ending up in the ocean as microplastic. Here in this article, you will learn about how to dispose of contact lenses the right way and what recycle programs have to do with it. One important rule for you to follow is the following:
Contact lenses are largely made of plastics. They are therefore not suitable for disposal in organic waste or the toilet or in the sink! You will find the green dot sign on most contact lens packaging. You should therefore dispose of the contact lenses correctly in the trash.
This will make sure the contact lenses will not end up in the ocean. However, throwing the contact lenses away is not the best way to get rid of them because they will be still just dumped on a landfill. A better way of dealing with old contact lenses is to actually recycle them. This ensures they will not pollute our environment.
For you, as a consumer, this means slightly more effort as you need to pack up your old contacts and blisters and for example, drop them off at your local optician who partnered up with Terracycle in order to accept your old contacts so they can be recycled. But more on this in the following paragraph.
Can You Recycle Contact Lenses?
You can recycle contact lenses. But they can not be recycled in any typical recycling program. Because contact lenses are simply too small to make it through the sorting process. The right way to recycle contacts is to simply look up locations on the website of the “one by one” recycle program where you can drop off your contacts.
Here on this page, you can look for locations near you. Contact lenses and blister packs from all brands will be accepted. You do not need to clean the contacts. But make sure no liquids are in the blisters and do not include any bottles or card boxes.
When you do not want to visit your local optician to participate in the recycling program you can also ship your old contact lenses to Terracycle. You simply need to sign in to their website and they will even provide you with prepaid shipping labels. You can watch the video below for more information.
Looking at the Trash Produced by Contact Lens Wearers From a Broader Angle
The disposal of contact lenses is not only about the little lenses as they come packaged in different materials. Usually, they come with:
- A Cardbox
- Aluminium foil which seals the blister
- Platic from the blister
- And the contacts
- Plastic bottles for contact lens care solutions
All of those materials need to be disposed of in a different way. For example, cardboard boxes are recyclable through your regular municipal recycling service while the aluminum foil needs to be placed in your curbside recycling container. 64% of the total waste produced by daily contact lens wear comes from the plastic of the blisters. Those blisters are also very small and can be taken away by the wind when they are dumped on a landfill.
So one option is to collect them in a larger bottle and then dispose of them all at once. This way at least they will not be distributed by the wind when they get dumped on a landfill when you throw them in the trash. The same is true for the actual contact lenses. But who does that? Right. This is why recycling programs are so valuable to our environment and why you should use them. Even though this requires slightly more effort on the side of the contact lens wearer.
The bottles you use for contact lens solutions can be recycled. Those are detergent bottles can be recycled using your local council’s kerbside recycling bin, at your local household waste recycling center. The bottles are made of HDPE and PET. HDPE gets shredded and melted down during the recycling process. This way the plastic can be used for manufacturing new products.
The same is true for the contact lens bottles made out of PET. Except they in some cases need to be chemically broken down to prepare the plastic for further use.
Speak to Your Optician About the Recycling Programs for Contact Lenses
When your local optician does not participate in the program of Terracycle yet maybe you can motivate him or her to do it in the future. This way fewer packages would be sent and chances are higher contact lens wearers get informed about how to recycle their contact lenses directly from the start.
It is odd for a lot of consumers to instantly think about how to recycle things the moment you bought them. But this way to think about it can save a big part of the 22 metric tons of contact lenses that do not get disposed of the correct way yearly by American households. The American Chemical Society estimated this number due to 20% of the 45 million Americans who wear contact lenses not recycling them.
As a result, the contact lenses break down to microplastic which then ends in our water or back on our fields. With the right ways to recycle contacts, this will not happen anymore.
Unfortunately, sustainability is not yet a focus for many opticians and wearers of contact lenses. Contact lens wearers who pay attention to sustainability have various options for responding to this. If you can convince your optician, much less waste will be produced by contact lenses in the future. Since the optician gets new contact lens wearers every day this will definitely have a lasting impact.
Taking on the issue yourself as a contact lens wearer and making your friends aware is a great way to deal with the issue.