Stop flushing your contact lenses down the drain

  • Stop flushing your contact lenses down the drain

Stop flushing your contact lenses down the drain

The amount of plastic waste created by lenses and their packaging in the United States alone is equal to 400 million toothbrushes each year, said researchers at Arizona State University who described their findings at the National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society in Boston.

What contact lenses look like when they're retrieved from sludge.

"It sounds like a very small problem, because the lenses themselves are tiny, but they come by the billions."
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"This is a pretty large number, considering roughly 45 million people in the USA alone wear contact lenses", said study co-author Charlie Rolsky.

New research suggests that millions of contact lenses may be ending up in USA water supplies each year, potentially contributing to ocean pollution. That's roughly 20 metric tons of lenses, according to the study.

Ever wonder what happens to disposable contact lenses when it's time to actually dispose of them?

Even if the whole lens does not escape through waste water filters, the fragments of them can be unsafe, too, contaminating the environment. But, it affects a lot more than animals and our waterways: these lenses can end up on our dinner plates.

Charles Rolsky
ASU- Charles Rolsky is a PhD student at Arizona State University who worked on the study./Public Domain

Microplastics are a tremendous source of pollution, the extent of which is only starting to be grasped.

"We found that there were noticeable changes in the bonds of the contact lenses after long-term treatment with the plant's microbes".

Kelkar explained, "When the plastic loses some of its structural strength, it will break down physically".

The research team worries about these plastics eventually making their way into the food chain through our land-based friends (like worms and birds) and/or our aquatic buds (like mussels and fish). "This leads to smaller plastic particles which would ultimately lead to the formation of microplastics". About one in five. "It does not biodegrade".

"I had worn glasses and contact lenses for most of my adult life", Halden told ASU Now.

Since Braush + Lomb is the only contact manufacturer that has a recycling program, the ASU research trio suggests throwing contact lenses "in the solid waste compartment of the house-the garbage can is preferable to the sink or the toilet".

Rolsky is hoping this prompts people to re-evaluate how they dispose of their plastic. There is already enough plastic in the ocean, no need to make it worse.