Contact lens recycling program hits big milestone

TerraCycle Include Canada (English) CA Bausch + Lomb
For two years, eye doctors across Canada have been helping divert disposable contact lenses and wrapping from landfills through a special recycling program. Those who include that kind of waste in their household recycling might be surprised to know that it usually gets filtered out of the recycling stream and ends up at the dump or in waterways as microplastic. "Contact lenses are one of the forgotten waste streams that are often overlooked due to their size and how commonplace they are in today’s society," said Tom Szaky, founder and CEO of TerraCycle, in a news release. "(It) is very exciting because we recently hit a one million contact lenses and blister packs recycled milestone." It is estimated that 290 million contact lenses end up in Canadian landfills and waterways every year, Sudbury optician Beth Pentney told CTV News in an interview. "The blister packs, it’s made of foil and plastic so people know that that’s a recyclable product. They may toss it into their blue box, but because it’s so small, it will get filtered out of municipal recycling programs and end up in our landfills," Pentney said. "What I think is maybe even worse is that a 2018 study in the US suggested that about 20 per cent of people flush their contact lenses down the toilet or down the drain… and in the U.S., that’s equivalent to like three billion lenses per year." Her store, Walden Optical -- in the Greater Sudbury community of Lively, Ont. -- got involved as a drop-off point for contact lens recycling in 2020. "It’s important to me as a recent graduate, a new optician, that I’m a part of the solution in our industry. I wanted to make sure that the products that I was selling would be disposed of effectively," she said. "I think people are more and more concerned about their individual impact on the environment and contact lenses are an important part of peoples' daily lives. Particularly through the pandemic when everyone’s glasses have been fogging up. Contact lenses are a really vital part of peoples' lives, so having a way to recycle them and know that they’re going to get turned into something else and not just in our landfills is really important to people." Every Contact Counts is a partnership between contact lens manufacturer Bausch + Lomb and national recycling company TerraCycle, but all brands are accepted. There are drop-off locations across Canada, with 250 in Ontario alone. Find one near you here.