Research has found that 780 million contact lenses are thrown away each year in the United Kingdom and up to 2.9 billion in the United States. 97% of the UK lenses get flushed in the toilet or thrown in the trash, instead of being recycled. Landfills are teeming with contact lenses.

Optical Express, the lens and eye surgery provider, did a study on the habits of contact lens wearers. In their findings of people throwing their contact lenses in the trash or drain, the plastic in contacts is likely to turn into microplastics. Plastic pollution is increasing daily and becoming a significant problem around the world. Plastic can take 500 years to break down, all while leaking into the soil and water.

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Up to a third of participants said they were unaware of the affect their tossing had on the environment. Optical Express has a new initiative to share environmental issues associated with contact lens disposal.

The United States throws away 2.6 to 2.9 billion contact lenses annually, most users just flush them down the toilet. This means about 50,000 pounds of contact lenses find their way into sewage each year. And like the UK, a lot end up in water treatment facilities, and eventually the ocean.

Stephen Hannan, the Optical Express Clinical Services Director said of the new problem, “We’d suspected that some people were disposing of lenses down the drain, but it’s shocking to learn the true scale of the problem. It’s time we all took more responsibility for how our personal decisions affect the environment. We all have choices in terms of vision correction, whether that’s to wear glasses more often or get laser eye surgery. But whatever you do, don’t throw your contact lenses down the drain.”

To deal with the current problem for contacts wearers, companies have installed places to recycle lenses to avoid the landfill. Optical Express has installed recycling boxes around the United Kingdom. Acuvue, a Johnson & Johnson company, has taken similar steps with a recycling program. In the United States, Bausch + Lomb offers a recycling program called ONE by ONE with over 2600 locations across the country. They will take back contact lenses and packaging.

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For the 125 million contacts lens wearers around the world, an environmental alternative is to wear glasses or get eye surgery to correct vision. And if you do wear contacts, find a way to recycle them. Take advantage of the options provided above.

Read more One Green Planet news about companies working to reduce plastic pollution. There are also many products you may be using or habits you may have that contribute to plastic pollution. Learn more how the use of Teabags, Cotton Swabs, Laundry, Contact Lenses, Glitter and Sheet Masks pollute our oceans.

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