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Recycling Contact Lenses, ONE by ONE

When you think of plastic pollution, you probably picture a large mass of floating bottles, straws and bags in the middle of the ocean. While large pieces of plastic pollution are an obvious concern, some folks are also focusing on something smaller — itty-bitty items millions of us use every day. One of these tiny items is contact lenses, which when improperly discarded, are likely to create microplastics –any piece of plastic under 5mm long.

You might be surprised to learn that the most common method used to dispose of contact lenses – by flushing them – is more detrimental to the environment compared to disposing of them in your regular trash.

According to a recent study completed by scientists at Arizona State University, “wastewater plants fragment them [contacts] into microplastics, which accumulate in sewage sludge. For about every two pounds of wastewater sludge, a pair of contact lenses typically can be found.” Tossing used lenses in regular trash is preferable to flushing, explains Charles Rolsky, a Ph.D. candidate who worked on the research project.

What can you do with contact lenses that are no longer useable? Check into one of the recycling programs for contact lenses. TerraCycle– a recycler of unusual items – and Bausch & Lomb – a supplier of contact lenses have partnered to launch the ONE by ONE program. The program accepts used lenses (regardless of brand) for recycling as well as empty blister packs and foils.

Since it was established three years ago, ONE by ONE has received about 16 million items to recycle. That represents more than 95,000 pounds of waste, according to information from Bausch & Lomb.

For the most efficient and eco-friendly approach, try dropping off your used contacts and blister packs at a participating eye care office in your area. If no recycling drop-off location is near you, save up about a year’s worth of contact lenses to send through the mail with free shipping. “[Drop offs are] more environmentally friendly overall as it saves packaging,” according to a Bausch & Lomb representative. “While we do offer free shipping labels to those who do not have recycling centers close by, we do try to limit this where possible since individual shipping can typically translate to more shipments with fewer recyclable materials, which has an impact on sustainability through transportation costs.”

To find a drop-off location nearest you, visit the location finder on the Bausch & Lomb website and consider encouraging your local vision professionals to participate in the ONE by ONE program.

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