Contact Lens Recycling
Posted: Monday 17th February 2020
There are approximately 3.7 million contact lens wearers in the UK, and around half of these wear daily disposable lenses. This generates thousands of kilos of contact lens waste. A recent study by Arizona State University found that up to a fifth of consumers are still flushing their used soft lenses down the toilet and that wastewater treatment plants are struggling to cope with them.
These small pieces of plastic often not only block sewage works but also end up on farmland as sludge, and can then be broken down into dangerous microplastics, which are detrimental to wildlife and environmental health. Until recently, the only practical option for these optical products in the UK was landfill or incineration. While this keeps plastic out of the ground and water, they are not ideal solutions either; incineration releases carbon dioxide, contributing to global warming, as well as toxic chemicals, while landfill merely puts off the problem to a later date.
You may wonder then if monthly lenses are a better option than daily disposables – however a study in 2012, by a researcher working for Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, concluded that the difference was very small after totting up all the packaging associated with monthly wear: cartons, blister packs, foils, bottles and lens cases. And of course, this must be balanced with the clinical pros and cons, and potential for eye infections.
Research has shown that 77% of people would recycle their lenses if they could, however most people don’t even realise that this is possible. Many people also don’t know what their local recycling services do and are putting their contact lens waste in the recycling bin even though most sorting and recycling machines will reject anything smaller than 40mm, according to WRAP, the UK’s waste and recycling charity. Some local authorities will only recycle bottle-shaped items and so other waste marked as recyclable cannot be put in the normal recycling waste even if they are larger than 40mm.
However, help is now at hand with Johnson & Johnson linking with Terracycle, the only company in the UK currently available to deal responsibly with any branded contact lens waste. All Rawlings Opticians branches have Terracycle bins and you can bring in your used lenses and blister packs. These are sent to Terracycle who recycle them into products such as garden furniture and even speed bumps.
Five million tonnes of plastic waste is generated annually in the UK which is a startling figure. There are 46,000 pieces of plastic in every square mile of the ocean. Let’s not add to this –Terracycle your lens waste at Rawlings!