Contact Lens Pollution

Every year, Americans flush 2.6 to 2.9 billion contact lenses down the drain, according to new research from Arizona State University. By tallying this debris and studying how it persists in this environment, the study provides the first estimate of the potential burden of these tiny plastics, or microplastics.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that about 45 million Americans wear contact lenses. By using data from the major contact lens manufacturers about the various types of contacts purchased (daily, biweekly or monthly), the ASU researchers were able to calculate that Americans wear a total of 13.2 to 14.7 billion lenses a year.

About 15 to 20% of the 400 contact wearing Americans surveyed said they either flushed their lenses down the toilet or let them wash down the drain.

Researchers are finding that those that lenses that do go down the drain or that are flushed down the toilet end up in water treatment plants and often slip through filter systems. Eventually lenses break apart into microplastics. Tiny bits of plastic have also been spotted in bodies of water where they may be ingested by fish, coral or other waterlife.

Although contact lens pollution is a concern, it is dwarfed by the eight million metric tons of larger plastic that clogs our oceans every year. But unlike the daunting task of slashing grocery bag and water bottle use, there’s an easy way to prevent contact lenses from becoming pollutants, definitely throw them in the solid waste compartment of the house—the garbage can is preferable to the sink or the toilet.

Contact lens companies often provide no package instructions about where to dispose of lenses, so can contact lenses be recycled? The answer is: for the first time, the used blister packs, top foil and contact lenses are recyclable through a collaboration with Bausch + Lomb and Terra cycle. To find out about the one-by-one contact recycling program visit: to find out more.





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