Hey all you contact-lens-wearers!
Do you recycle your contact lenses with your other plastics & paper? Do you flush used lenses down the toilet? Or do you toss them in the regular trash?
Well, if you answered "yes" to any of the above questions, chances are your contact lenses and blister packs are ending up in our waterways and landfills. Yep, even if you toss them into your regular recycling bin.
According to a 2017 report, about 45 million Americans wear contact lenses. That's a whole lot of waste going to the landfill if people don't know how to recycle them correctly! And I was contributing to that waste (especially since I wear daily lenses) until I did a bit of research.
But did you know you can recycle your contact lenses, but not like your normal recyclables? That's right.
You CANNOT toss contact lenses and blister packs loose in the same bin as your plastic bottles, soda cans, magazines, and papers.
Blister packs (the small plastic containers your lenses come in) and lenses are way too small for a regular recycling machine to handle, so instead, they are filtered out and tossed in the landfill pile.
So how do you go against the "wish-cycling" mindset and recycle them successfully?
Luckily, there are two methods for this.
The first option is to put your empty blister packs and used lenses into an empty plastic bottle. This helps to get around the "too small to recycle" issue since they are now packaged into a bigger bottle. But make sure to remove the aluminum cover first, and toss those into the regular trash.
This method is pretty easy. Just keep a Gatorade bottle, or some other bottle with a wide mouth, in your bathroom and toss your used plastics into the bottle instead of the trash. Once the bottle is full, you can then dump it into your bin with your other recyclables.
However, this method still creates waste since the aluminum top must be tossed in the regular garbage (aka: landfill). Additionally, there is not a guarantee that the filled plastic bottle will even be recycled due to a number of things (wrong plastic number, contamination of unwashed recyclables from yourself or neighbors, falls off the truck due to high winds, etc.). So there are still a few flaws with that method.
The second more successful option is an easy, free, and fast recycling program. Back in 2016, Bausch + Lomb partnered with Terracycle to create a free contact lens recycling program to recycle used contact lenses, blister packs, AND aluminum toppings.
This second method is similar to the first, but has a higher guarantee of success. Simply collect all your contact lens waste in a small box or bag, then when it's full, drop it off at your local participating eye doctor. There are thousands of participating offices around the country (5,153 to be exact) so it's easy to find one near you. I'm in the middle of Idaho right now and there was a participating doctor only 5 minutes down the road! A map of participating doctors is found on the recycling program page.
I just dropped off my first box yesterday and it was super easy. There was no shipping label to print out or special packaging needed ahead of time. I just placed all my contact lens waste (about 6 months worth) into a used Amazon Prime box, loosely taped it, drove down the street, walked in the door and said "Hi, I heard this is a Terracycle drop-off location for recycling contact lenses?". The nice woman at the front desk immediately knew what I meant, accepted the package from me, and thanked me for doing my part. I was in and out of the door in less than 45 seconds.
Without this fantastic program from Terracycle and Basuch + Lomb, my 730 used Dailies would easily end up in the oceans and landfills each year, left to take hundreds of years to decompose and potentially harm wildlife. Instead, this is what will happen:
"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."
The only downside to this program is the small amount of greenhouse gasses caused from shipping a package. If you are concerned about your footprint from shipping recyclables across the country, you can pay to offset your carbon emissions. Most Terracycle packages are sent to Hamilton, NJ for recycling. With this calculator, you can easily figure out how much CO2 you caused from your shipment and then make a Terrapass donation.
According to the calculator, my ~1 lb package of contact lens waste sent from Idaho to New Jersey created 0.62 kgCO2, which equals 1.36 lbs CO2. This is a super rough estimate since we can't be certain of the truck's exact route, weight or gas usage. It also doesn't include methane or nitrous oxide emissions. But by signing up for a monthly Terrapass subscription ($5 to offset every 1,000 lbs CO2), I can feel a little better about shipping and receiving occasional packages. Additionally, you can use this Terrapass calculator to figure out your annual carbon emissions and donate that way too.
So I urge you to please look into this completely free and easy contact lens recycling program. You can recycle any brand of contacts and stop them from harming our earth and wildlife.
Terracycle has a bunch of other amazing free recycling programs as well. I am also participating in the free Personal Care and Beauty, Bimbo Bakery USA Bag, and ACURE recycling programs. When I am in a permanent home once again, I plan to have a few different collection boxes in my garage for beauty products, snack bags, electronics and more.
So if I can recycle successfully while on the road and moving to different Airbnb's each week, then you can certainly do it at home.
I was not paid or sponsored by any of the organizations mentioned for this blog post.