Are Contact Lenses Sustainable?

March 10th, 2020
woman inserting contact lens

Disposable contact lenses are a major contributor to ocean waste learn how to be environmentally conscious with your eyewear. 

According to the American Optometric Association, 45 million Americans wear contact lenses. There are plenty of good reasons to wear contacts. Disposable lenses are convenient and easy to clean, and they impact your appearance less than traditional glasses. But when it comes to the environment, disposable contact lenses are not always an ideal option.  

It’s true that contact lenses are small, and the amount of plastic they contribute is small compared to larger waste like soda bottles or grocery bags. But an enormous number of lenses are thrown away each day, and disposable contact lenses make a sizable contribution to the plastic waste in our oceans.  

The environmental impact of disposable contact lenses

For contact wearers who wish to lessen their environmental footprint, disposable contact lenses provide a dilemma. Disposable lenses aren’t biodegradable, but they aren’t recyclable according to local recycling guides. Contact wearers with the best environmental intentions often find themselves flushing their lenses down the toilet at the end of the day.

You might be asking, why can’t I throw my lenses in the recycling bin? It’s true that most contact lenses are made from Number 5 recyclable materials, which your local recycling program might be able to process. However, because contact lenses are so small, they are usually removed from Number 5 recycling loads and placed in the landfill. This means that, when lenses are placed in the recycling bin, their environmental impact is still harmful.

The result: disposable contact lenses create 6-10 tons of plastic waste each year, according to the AOA. When contact lenses are flushed down the toilet, they eventually make their way to the ocean, where they damage aquatic environments and sea creatures

Making sustainable choices

No matter how you spin it, disposable contact lenses take a toll on the environment. Regardless of whether they’re flushed, thrown away, or deposited in the recycling bin, disposable lenses eventually make their way to our oceans. So, what’s the solution?

Fortunately, there are ways to reduce your environmental footprint while wearing disposable contact lenses. Contact-lens makers including Johnson & Johnson and Bausch + Lomb have begun to implement free programs for disposable contacts and their packaging. These companies use convenient drop-off sites — like optometrists’ offices — to collect used lenses and associated wrapping for their own recycling streams. 

Finding a lasting solution

The most successful way to prevent your contact lenses from polluting the ocean is, of course, not to wear contact lenses at all.

If you don’t have access to an alternative recycling service, or if you are especially concerned about your environmental impact, you might wish to consider a different way to correct your eyesight. Glasses and LASIK surgery are both waste-free alternatives to disposable plastic lenses.

If you’re looking for the most sustainable way to correct your vision, schedule an appointment with us at Kleiman Evangelista. With convenient locations across the Dallas Metroplex, our experienced team offers comprehensive treatments for all your eye care needs. 

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