Do you wear contact lenses? Do you know how eco-friendly they are? Have you ever thought about whether you can recycle disposable contact lenses?
I Really Don’t Like Wearing Glasses!
I’m short-sighted. I vividly remember going for an eye test when I was 10 and bursting into tears when the optician said that I needed glasses. What’s worse was that I ended up with a pair of gold and pink ones. It doesn’t matter what glasses I choose; I hate wearing them. Then when I was at university, I decided to try contact lenses. Since then I’ve worn monthly disposable contact lenses most of the time.
Around the end of 2018 I started to have problems with my eyes. I thought I had conjunctivitis. One of my eyes was weepy and sore. Then, I wondered if I’d gotten a bad batch of lenses so I had them replaced but the problem continued. I stopped wearing them and the soreness went away.
Moving To Daily Lenses
Around this time last year I had a eye test and asked for some new lenses so I could wear them on our wedding day. No way did I want to wear my glasses! The optician said that I’d actually had an allergic reaction to my old lenses, and it was a problem associated with the particular brand I’d bought. My eyelids were still damaged, and she said it looked like bubble wrap, ugh! I honestly thought that the problem had gone away by not wearing the lenses, so I’ve learnt my lesson there.
To cut a long story short, I was advised not to wear monthly disposables again, but to switch to daily disposable contact lenses (after treating my problem of course). They let more oxygen into the eyes apparently. Until then I had never really considered the waste from my lenses. I mean, I’m throwing away 12 pairs a year, right? But switch to daily use and you’re suddenly looking at a lot of waste. I immediately decided to cut down on my wear of lenses but was still worried about the single use waste I’d be generating.
What are Contact Lenses Made From?
Plastic. That’s the basic answer. I’m no scientist, so I can’t tell you why it’s a particular kind of plastic (silicone hydrogel) and how that compares to other types of plastic. We all know that single-use plastic is no good for the environment, even if it is good for our eyesight! Don’t forget the packaging either. Most soft contact lenses come in plastic and foil vacuumed sealed blister packs. I’ll admit that until last year I was chucking these in the bin without a second thought.
Can You Recycle Disposable Contact Lenses?
Did you know that almost a quarter of contact lenses wearers just flush their lenses down the toilet?! I find that utterly bizarre. Think of the fish, people! The rest, like me, are chucking them in the bin. Of course, you can argue that the bin is no better.
According to Acuvue, there are around 3.7 million contact lens wearers in the UK alone, which amounts to a shocking amount of single-use plastic waste. Switching to daily disposable lenses, even with my intention to wear them only 50% of the time, really made me think about this.
When I looked into it I realised that you can recycle disposable contact lenses. Now I’ve been wearing lenses since around 2004 and not one single optician has ever told me this. I shudder to think of how much single-use plastic my lens wearing has generated in that time. Although, in my defence, I did think that the lenses themselves were biodegradable. (They’re not).
Terracycle have a UK-wide scheme with Boots Opticians (and some independent opticians) to recycle disposable contact lenses and packaging. You can find locations near you here and currently there are 1252! All you need to do is collect up all of your old lenses and packaging and then deposit it into the box you’ll find inside selected opticians.
How Has My Contact Lens Use Changed?
Thankfully my eyes did heal enough to wear lenses for wedding day. I do find that they still get dry more quickly though. I switched to daily disposables but I’m probably only wearing them about ten days out of the month. Having never really thought about the waste impact of my lenses, I actually feel a little guilty wearing them too much now.
I am saving up all of my lenses and their packaging and taking them to my local Boots opticians every few months. The Terracycle scheme is a great idea but I’m disappointed that opticians aren’t promoting it when they sell you the lenses. I’m also disappointed that not all opticians are signed up for it either. But still, let’s take the positives here, we can recycle disposable contact lenses, hurrah!