Are Contact Lenses Environmentally Friendly?

March 12th, 2020
contacts lenses

Disposable contacts may not be great for the environment, but luckily there are things you can do to reduce your impact.

Disposable contacts are increasingly popular eyecare solutions. Whether they are single-wear or reusable monthlies, their convenience is hard to deny. Unfortunately, the popularity of disposable contacts has also had a noticeable impact on the environment.

The short answer to the title question (are contact lenses environmentally friendly?) is no.  Contact lenses and their packaging cannot be recycled through standard channels, and they are not made of biodegradable materials. However, thanks to increasing consumer concern about the environmental impact of disposable lenses, companies are taking steps to reduce the contact lens waste. Read on to learn what eco-conscious consumers can do to reduce their environmental impact. 

The Pros and Cons of Disposable Contacts

Disposable contact lenses have many benefits. They are convenient to wear, ideal for athletic activity, and often, more hygienic than their longer-lasting alternatives. One of the main drawbacks however, is what happens during the waste disposal process. 

Contact lenses are made of tough plastics that don’t break down fully when they are exposed to microbes in a sewage plant. They become smaller plastics that enter the water stream. According to a 2018 study by Arizona State University, as many as one out of five contact lens wearers dispose of their used contacts by flushing them down the toilet or washing them down the drain. Nationwide, that comes to anywhere from 1.8 to 3.6 billion lenses being sent into the water stream annually.

Another problem with disposable contacts has to do with their packaging. Because of their small size and the type of packaging materials they use, regular recycling facilities cannot handle contact lens recycling. That means that even if you are separating the foil from the plastic and depositing plastic in the recycling bins, your lens packaging will likely be diverted to a landfill. 

Recycling Contact Lenses

Fortunately, companies are becoming more responsive to consumer concerns about the environmental impact of contacts. Many companies are developing methods for contact recycling. In some cases, that means initiating nationwide recycling programs while in other cases, the work centers on creating more sustainable lenses. 

If you are looking to recycle your disposable contacts, there are options available. In 2016, Bausch + Lomb launched the ONE by ONE Recycling Program in partnership with TerraCycle. The recycling program lets contact users recycle their lenses themselves, the blister packs, and the top foil — all of which would otherwise end up in a landfill. 

Getting involved in the program is easy. When eyecare professionals register, they receive large custom recycling bins for used contacts, blister packs, and foils. When the bins are full, participating professionals can print out a free shipping label and mail the materials to TerraCycle, who will recycle them properly.

Eco-Friendly Eyewear Choices

If you are looking to reduce your environmental impact, you can also look to other, more eco-friendly eyewear options instead of disposable contacts. 

One option is switching to glasses — particularly those with more sustainable frames — and recycling your used glasses when you move to a new pair. Some eco-friendly frame materials include: wood, bamboo and cork, recycled oils, and bonding agents from plants. 

Another great choice is to undergo Lasik surgery. With Lasik, you won’t need to wear contact lenses or glasses, thus eliminating the environmental impact of your eyewear. 

If you are interested in exploring what eyewear option might be right for you, whether that includes contact lenses, glasses, or Lasik, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at our Mesa and Chandler locations. We will help you choose the option that is right for you.