11 September 2018
Disposable contact lens wear does create waste. The amount varies with monthlies having about half the amount of waste of dailies, while non-disposables have twice as much waste as daily disposable lenses. This waste should certainly not be disposed of in the waste water system https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-45222865. But there is now a way to dispose of used contact lenses that allows them to be recycled.
Contact lens waste is not a big problem. It does only amount to about 0.5% of a person’s total waste or the equivalent of consuming 15 cans of soft drink a year. This low volume can make recycling difficult. That’s where Terra Cycle comes in. Terra Cycle is a company that I first heard about outside of optometry when it partnered with a bicycle manufacturer to enable the recycling of old carbon fibre bicycle frames. They actively drive increased waste recycling, particularly of irregular waste, by facilitating waste collection. This allows for the collection of enough volume of each material to make its recycling a commercially viable effort. https://www.terracycle.com.au/en-AU/about-terracycle/how_we_solve
Terra Cycle offers to recycle contact lenses and contact lens blister packs. As an added bonus, every 1kg of waste will also generate a $1 donation to the Optometry Giving Sight charity http://www.givingsight.org/ which works to help the 600 million people around the world who are vision impaired simply because they can’t access eye exams and glasses. To recycle your lenses, simply drop your dry contact waste into either our Hutt St or Woodville locations and we will send them off for recycling.
So what happens to the contact lens waste? Well, once received, the contact lenses and blister packs are separated by composition and cleaned. The metal layers of the blister packs are recycled separately, while the contact lenses and plastic blister pack components are melted into plastic that can be remolded to make recycled products.
Cardboard contact lens boxes and solution bottles can already be recycled via your local council kerbside collection.
Morgan SL, Morgan PB, Efron N. Environmental impact of three replacement modalities of soft contact lens wear. Cont Lens Anterior Eye. 2003 Mar;26(1):43-6.