How to Dispose of Contact Lenses? Do’s and Dont’s!

About 45 million people in the US alone wear contact lenses, most of them female. Contact lenses have many benefits and are a great alternative to glasses.

Since contacts are not a permanent corrective vision tool, they need to be disposed of and disposed of correctly.

Keep reading to learn more about the proper ways to dispose of contact lenses.

Properly Disposing Contact Lenses (Don’t Flush it Down)

Most people think it is okay to flush their contact lenses down the toilet or the sink drain. But that is a crucial example of what not to do.

Contact lenses, no matter what kind, do not melt in water. They actually cause harm to oceans and waterways when tossed down the sink.

Instead, the proper way to dispose of all types of contact lenses is to throw them in the trash can, just like regular garbage.

Be careful to make sure you get them in the trash bag, as they can stick to items when they dry out. When dry, they are almost impossible to remove from surfaces!

Unfortunately, you cannot recycle contact lenses, despite being made of plastic. Their tiny size makes them impossible for recycling facilities to handle.

Contact Lenses and Plastic Pollution

For many consumers, contact lenses are an unknown source of plastic pollution.

You should not flush contact lenses down the sink drain. They are harmful to aquatic life when they get into waterways. Contact lenses are denser than water and sink to the bottom.

This trait means they could be ingested by fish or other marine animals in oceans or other waters, causing harm.

When contact lenses are appropriately disposed of and thrown away, you contain them to landfills. Even though there is a potential for them to make it to the ocean, it is a much rarer occurrence.

Unfortunately, a study from Arizona State University found that about one-fifth of contact wearers flush used contacts down the drain or toilet.

This act adds up to ten tons of microplastics ending up in waterways each year.

The issue with contact lenses is that they don’t fully degrade. They break down into microplastics that hang out in the environment for years.

In fact, these microplastics can be harmful throughout the entire food chain.

Fish can ingest these microplastics and then end up on our dinner plate.

Switching to monthly or even biweekly lenses is more eco-friendly than daily contact lenses.

Recycling as much as possible in contact lens components and packaging also helps the planet out.

How to Properly Dispose of Contact Lens Packaging

Even though you should throw the contact lenses themselves away, that’s not always true for their packaging.

Not all components of a contact lenses’ packaging need to or should be thrown in the trash.

Contact lenses usually come in blister packs, which are composed of a blister and foil lid.

These blister packs come together in an external packaging of some sort. This outer packaging is generally a paper box. If it’s made of paper, it’s recyclable.

Blister packs are made of two parts: a plastic case and an aluminum foil lid. These two parts should be separated before disposal.

The foil lid can usually be recycled, whereas the plastic part varies on its disposal.

It is generally recommended that the plastic part should be thrown away in the trash; however, there may be a recycling hack for these.

Some recycling centers may accept them if they are collected in plastic bottles and then recycled once the bottle is full.

The plastic parts themselves are too small otherwise for recycling plants to sort correctly.

Contact lens storage cases and lens cleaning solution bottles are also made of plastic and should be recyclable.

The one benefit to wearing daily contacts is that you will not need either of these products.

However, if you are ever in doubt, it never hurts to double-check the recycling symbols or numbers on the packaging components.

Contact lens storage cases need to be replaced every three months to prevent bacteria growth and a subsequent eye infection.

In addition to recycling them, you can also repurpose contact lens storage cases in a few creative ways.

Repurposing Contact Lens Cases

Turning contact lens cases into something new and reusing them is a fun way to go green. You can try some of these new upcycling ideas for your next old contact lens case.

Popular repurposing ideas for contact lens cases include earbuds, chair leg pads, keychains, earring back storage, a locket necklace, or even a microchip holder.

Some people also use them for decorative magnets, ant traps, checker pieces, poker chips, and a variety of craft pieces.

They also make excellent day/night pill cases or travel containers for moisturizer, foundation, or other makeup. Contact lens cases really do have a variety of different uses.

Try to find a way to creatively reuse them before you resort to throwing them out.

How to Recycle Contact Lenses

Unfortunately, contact lenses create a lot of waste and are a somewhat surprising source of pollution.

Because they are so small, recycling centers cannot recycle them through standard means, such as through in your recycling bin.

Americans wear billions of contact lenses each year, which adds up to many microplastics polluting the oceans.

Thankfully, some companies are partnering up to offer a contact lens recycling program. Check with local recycling facilities in your area; you may be surprised by all the services they offer.

ONE By ONE Recycling Program

Bausch & Lomb and TerraCycle have teamed up to offer a recycling program that is free and nationwide.

All you have to do is drop your used contacts, regardless of brand, at your local drop off-site. They even accept the plastic blister packs the contact lenses come in.

Check with your local eye doctor’s office to see if they will recycle your used contacts and their plastic blister containers.

If you don’t have a local eye doctor’s office that participates in this program, you can ship your used contact lenses, blister packs, and blister foils directly to TerraCycle.

What Happens Next?

When TerraCycle receives your used contact lenses and packaging, they are recycled into various post-consumer products.

The lenses and plastic parts are melted down into plastic that can be remolded into products like recycled picnic tables and garden beds.

Bausch & Lomb estimates that their ONE by ONE Recycling Program has recycled more than 25,000 pounds of packaging.

A Brief History of Contact Lenses

Surprisingly, contact lenses have been around since the late-1800s and were originally made of glass.

I can’t even imagine putting glass in my eyes nowadays!

In the 1970s and 1980s, contact lenses became more mainstream. In 1995, daily disposable contact lenses were introduced.

Modern-day contact lenses are made from various plastic materials, including hydrogel, silicone hydrogel, and hyper gel.

Most are known as soft contacts, which allow oxygen to pass through the eye’s cornea and are very comfortable.

Types of Contact Lenses

Besides soft contacts, other types of contact lenses include rigid gas permeable (RGP) contact lenses, extended-wear contact lenses, and disposable/replacement scheduled contact lenses.

RGPs came along before soft contacts; they are more durable and resistant to deposit buildup. These features make them great for long-term use or monthly contact lenses.

They also tend to last longer than soft contacts but are not as comfortable as soft contacts at first; they take some time to get used to.

Extended wear contacts are approved for use overnight or continuous wear for up to 30 days. Their flexible plastic base makes it easy for oxygen to pass through to the eye’s cornea.

Removal occurs on a set schedule, and your eyes should be allowed to rest for at least one day after each removal.

Most contact lens wearers dispose of their soft contacts on some type of frequent replacement schedule. Typical schedules are daily, weekly, biweekly, or monthly.

Daily contacts are used once and then disposed of.

The other types should be removed at night, cleaned, and stored correctly in a contact lens case with contact solution, then used the next day again.

To Wrap Up

Despite their popularity and benefits over glasses, contact lenses do produce a lot of plastic waste with their small size and easy accessibility.

The proper way to dispose of contact lenses is to throw them away in a standard trash can.

However, as more studies have shown the amount of plastic waste contact lenses produce, companies have begun to notice.

Recycling programs for contact lenses are available nationwide and are a great way to help reduce plastic waste. Help do your part by properly disposing of contact lenses.

Other articles you may also like: