Saving the Planet: How to Recycle Your Contact Lenses

Are you feeding your contact lenses to the fish? Are you eating your contact lenses?

Of course not. You would never do that. That can’t be healthy for the poor fish. Or you.

But are you?

About 15-20% of contact lens wearers flush their disposable lenses down the sink or toilet. The lenses break down into microplastics that can eventually end up at the bottom of the sea.

Bottom feeders come along and swoop them up with their normal food. They can’t digest the plastic so it works its way up the food chain until you’re enjoying a fish fillet with a side of contact lenses.

Delicious, right?

Hmmm, maybe it’s time to learn how to properly recycle your contact lenses so this doesn’t happen. Let’s take a look.

Contact Lens Pollution

You may find it hard to believe that something so small can end up having a big impact on the environment. But stop and think about it. There are an estimated 125 million people on the planet who wear contact lenses.

That’s a lot of contact lenses! Many of those people use weekly or even daily lenses. This means that their used lenses pile up fast. 

In the US alone, contact lens wearers go through about 14 billion contact lenses each year. It’s hard to imagine how much waste 14 billion contact lenses can make. Let’s put it in perspective. That amounts to about 441,000 pounds of plastic waste per year!

Remember, that’s only the waste in the US. Contact lens wearers in the US make up only 45 million of the total 125 million wearers in the world. Imagine how much waste that amounts to worldwide!

Flushing them down the toilet, as we’ve already mentioned, is not an adequate disposal option. It just contributes to a growing pollution problem in the world’s oceans. 

You may think that you can toss them in the garbage instead. But this is not a proper alternative. This just contributes to the already significant single-use plastic problem.

What can you do instead? You can reduce the amount of waste you produce and you can recycle the rest.

Let’s look at how.

What Can You Do to Reduce Waste?

The contacts themselves are not the only thing that produces waste. You also have to consider the box they come in, the little plastic blister pack, and their foil tops. 

Single-use contact lenses, those designed to be worn once and thrown away, produce the most waste. Thus, the most obvious way to reduce waste is to switch to extended-use contacts.

You can choose contacts designed to be worn for a week, two weeks, a month, or even one year. However, always go with your doctor’s recommendation. Extended wear contacts may not be the best option for everyone. It’s good to focus on protecting the environment, but not at the cost of your eyes health.

Regardless which type of contact lenses you choose, you’re going to have some waste. What do you do with it?

You recycle it, of course! Here’s how. 

How Can You Recycle Your Contact Lenses?

Recognizing this problem, big contact lens companies like Bausch + Lomb and Acuvue have launched contact lens recycling programs. They collect the waste, process it, and turn it into other useful plastic products. 

Doesn’t it sound better to sit on outdoor furniture or build a deck with plastic lumber made from contact lenses rather than eating them?

Recycling them is easy. The first step is to separate the waste. The cardboard box the lenses come in can be recycled along with your regular recycling. Gather the lenses, blister packs, and the foil tops for disposal through a contact lens recycling program.

Ask at your optometrist’s office if they are a drop-off location for one of the programs. If not, you can search online to find a participating office in your area.

Even though the programs are run by contact lens manufacturers it doesn’t matter what brand your lenses are. They will accept contact lens waste regardless of the brand.

What if you don’t have any dropoff locations in your area? You can also ship your contact lens waste directly to TerraCycle, the recycling company that processes the waste. You can get a free shipping label from the Bausch + Lomb website

Have more questions? You can learn more about recycling contacts here.

Offer the Gift of Sight

As if keeping the oceans clean weren’t enough incentive to recycle your lenses, there’s one more amazing benefit. For every pound of contact lens waste collected, the recycling program donates a dollar to Optometry Giving Sight.

This is an organization dedicated to giving the gift of sight. They provide eye care and low-cost glasses to people around the world who don’t have adequate access to proper eye care. Plus they provide training and resources and help to establish optometry schools to equip local eye care professionals. 

All the way around recycling your contact lenses is a win for you. Not only are you helping to take care of the environment, but also you’re giving someone else the opportunity to see. 

You can’t get much nobler than that!

Get Started Today!

Don’t delay. Now that you know how to recycle your contact lenses, stop throwing them in the toilet or in the garbage. Start collecting them and find out if there is a local dropoff facility you can use. If not, simply get a free shipping label online and ship them off once you fill the box. 

To learn about what you should be eating for optimum eye health, check out this article.