TerraCycle Include USA B+L
By MELISSA BARNETT, OD, FAAO, FSLS, FBCLA May 1, 2020   In our modern society, plastic is everywhere—from water bottles, cars, toys, packaging, clothing, food utensils, and straws to contact lenses, lens solution bottles, and contact lens cases. According to a 2016 study, 32% of plastic packaging is either not collected or is collected and then dumped illegally or mishandled (World Economic Forum, Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and McKinsey & Company). Most manufactured plastics can be recycled; however, there is confusion about how to recycle, with a myriad of different rules and guidelines. According to National Geographic, 91% of plastic has never been recycled. Additionally, every city and town has its own recycling program. It is important to check a location’s rules to confirm what can be recycled.  

Plastic in Contact Lenses

  Daily disposable lenses boast the highest rate of replacement compliance among the different soft lens replacement schedules (Dumbleton et al, 2009). As daily replacement lenses gain in popularity, both patients and practitioners may have concerns that more waste is generated by using new lenses every day. However, as far as the lenses themselves are concerned, an annual supply of daily disposable lenses (365 pairs) produced 11.36g of dehydrated plastic waste, slightly more than it would take to produce two credit cards. A commonly used 20oz water bottle has the equivalent weight of 1,586 dehydrated contact lenses (a 2.17 year supply) (Routhier et al, 2012).   In addition, the amount of plastic that goes into manufacturing multipurpose solution bottles and lens cases is often overlooked. A single multipurpose solution bottle has an average weight equivalent to 2.5 years of daily replacement contact lenses (Routhier et al, 2012). Of interest, a single multipurpose solution storage case is equivalent to more than a four-year supply of daily disposables, and a peroxide case is equal to more than eight years’ worth.  

Recycling Rules

  Contact lens cases and solution bottles may be recycled in the plastic number 5 container. Number 5 recycling is increasingly becoming more accepted by recyclers and can be recycled by some curbside programs. Materials are recycled into signal lights, battery cables, brooms, brushes, auto battery cases, ice scrapers, landscape borders, bicycle racks, rakes, bins, pallets, and trays (Howard and Abdelrahman, 2020).   One contact lens company in the United States offers a recycling program for contact lens waste that can’t be recycled curbside. Patients can bring their lenses, blister packs, and foils to a participating eyecare practitioner’s office, where the materials are shipped to TerraCycle, or they can ship them from home. The contact lenses and blister packs are separated and cleaned after they are received. All brands of lenses may be recycled with this program.   Hard plastic number-5-stamped contact lens containers (blister packs) can also be recycled through Preserve’s Gimme 5 Program (www.preserve.eco ). The packs must be cleaned, and the foil tops must be removed and disposed of elsewhere.   The Contact Lens & Cornea Section (CLCS) of the American Optometric Association (AOA) has published guidelines for the safe disposal of used contact lenses and their packaging (AOA, 2018):  
  • Remind patients to never flush lenses down the sink or toilet.
  • Inform patients about recycling programs that are available, especially for contact lenses.
  • Don’t forget that boxes, contact lens cases, and lens solution bottles are usually recyclable through standard recycling bins.

A Practice Builder

  I frequently discuss contact lens recycling with my patients. In addition to the benefits of a clean lens each day, they are pleased to learn about these recycling resources, which in turn grows our daily replacement lens business.