Researchers at Arizona State University have concluded that one-fifth of disposable contact lens wearers flush their used contacts down the sink or toilets when done using them. This amounts in 10 metric tons of microplastics flowing each year into our wastewater plants and later our waterways, which poses a problem for fish and aquatic life.
It’s estimated that up to 45 million Americans wear contact lenses. Researchers surveyed 400 users and found that 19 percent of those said that they flush the used lenses down sinks or toilets. That may be because the lenses themselves have a watery feel to them and users assume they are made to be flushed.
The Problem: Contact Lenses Don’t Degrade
The contact lenses themselves are made with oxygen permeable plastics that are different than the other types of plastics, such as water bottles. These lenses do not fully degrade, but the polymers did break down into even smaller plastics, known as microplastics.
After their trip through treatment tanks, these microplastics ended up being discharged into waterways or into sewage sludge, which gets spread on land. These plastics can end up in the food chain as they are ingested by aquatic life or even in worms. Contact lenses are denser than water, so the sink and could be ingested by bottom feeding aquatic life.
In conclusion, the proper method for disposing of used contact lenses is to just throw the lenses in the trash, where they would be contained in landfills. A new solution that we are promoting at Matossian Eye Associates is to place the used lenses into the contact lens blister pack of your next pair of lenses and place the packaging into recycling. Here at MEA, we are partnering with Bausch & Lomb in their national contact lens recycling program. Our contact lens wearers are encouraged to bring back their used contact lens packaging regardless of what brand that they wear.