A new report states that a shocking amount of contact lenses are being flushed down the drain or toilet, causing terrible effects on our environment
Reports show that almost 20% of contact lens users decide to dispose the plastic circles in a very irresponsible way: they flush them down the toilet or drain of the sink without considering where they might end.
In US alone, there are 45 million contact lens wearers, and 20% of that equals to 9 million reasons why our environment might suffer.
According to recent research, up to 3.36 billion disposable plastic lenses per year end up in the US wastewater systems, contributing to plastic pollution. This research began when environmental engineer Rolf Halden of Arizona State University – who also wears lenses – wondered if anyone had conducted any sort of research into the disposal of the little plastic circles that help us see. As he looked, he was shocked to see that he couldn’t find any.
With this in mind, the team set about conducting one. The first step they took was an anonymous survey of 139 contact-lens wearers and non-wearers. Out of the lens wearers, 19% admitted to flushing their lenses down the drain or toilet.
The next part of the research required them to find out what happens to those lenses once they are being disposed as such.
Even though there are filters designed to keep larger objects from ending up in wastewater treatment plants, contact lenses are too small and flexible, which means that they can easily get through the filters.
The team even found several fragments of contact lenses through wastewater sludge, which indicated that wastewater processing doesn’t simply let the lenses through, but even help them break into smaller pieces.
“These are medical devices – you would not expect them to be super-biodegradable. Good for the contact lens wearer during use, not so good when the things get out into the environment,” environmental engineer Rolf Halden said
“When the lens plastic loses some of its structural strength, it will break down physically. This leads to smaller plastic particles, which ultimately will lead to the formation of microplastics,” environmental engineer Varun Kelkar of Arizona State University explained.
Animals leaving in the ocean and seas can mistake fragments of plastic for food, which can end up killing them.
How to prevent this from happening? Sadly, at the moment manufacturers don’t include any information on how to dispose contact lenses, so this would be a good place to start.
“A simple first step would be for manufacturers to provide on product packaging, information on how to properly dispose of contact lenses, which is simply by placing them in the trash with other solid waste,” Halden said.
“A desirable long-term outcome would be to create lenses from polymers that are fine-tuned to be inert during use but labile and degradable when escaping into the environment.”
So, if you are a contact lens wearer, simply throw them in the bin.