Contact lenses have become an integral part of our daily lives, serving as a convenient alternative to eyeglasses. But what do you do when they’ve outlived their utility?
Whether they’re expired, the wrong prescription, or you’ve switched to a different type, you may find yourself with a collection of old contacts. I’ve delved deep into the maze of solutions to this conundrum and here’s what I’ve discovered.
TL;DR: The primary advice for old contacts? Never flush them down the toilet or sink. Instead, recycle them or donate to organizations if they are unopened and unused. For the detailed route, keep reading.
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Recycling Old Contacts
Bausch + Lomb’s ONE by ONE Recycling Program
One of the foremost avenues I recommend is using Bausch + Lomb’s ONE by ONE Recycling Program. They’ve partnered with TerraCycle, ensuring that the contact lenses and their packaging don’t end up in landfills. Plus, it’s free!
Local Recycling Centers
While not all local recycling centers accept contact lenses, it’s worth giving them a call. They might direct you to specialized facilities or programs in your area.
Note: Always ensure your contact lenses are free from any solution before recycling.
Donating Unopened and Unused Contacts
This organization sends eyewear to people in need in Nicaragua. If you have unopened contact lenses that are no longer of use to you, consider sending them MADRE’s way.
Sometimes, local optometrists run programs where they collect and distribute unused contact lenses to those in need. I recommend checking with your eye doctor.
For those with a creative flair, old contacts can be used in art projects. They can be painted and integrated into mixed media artworks. From personal experience, they can be especially interesting in texture-based projects.
Teaching and Learning Tools
For biology or anatomy enthusiasts, old contact lenses can serve as props for explaining the human eye’s structure and the role of lenses.
If none of the above options seem feasible, safe disposal is the way to go.
It might sound rudimentary, but placing your old contact lenses in the trash is better than flushing them. Flushing contacts contributes to microplastic pollution in our waterways, which is harmful to marine life and, eventually, humans.
A 2018 study conducted by Arizona State University found that about 20% of contact wearers flushed their used lenses down the sink or toilet. This amounts to about 6-10 metric tons of plastic lenses floating in wastewater, which can cause significant ecological harm.
Prescription Take-Back Programs
Certain regions offer prescription take-back programs, which are not just for medications. Some accept old contact lenses, ensuring they are disposed of properly.
The Environmental Impact of Improper Disposal
Contact lenses might appear small and insignificant, but their cumulative effect on the environment is considerable when improperly disposed of.
Microplastics in Waterways
When flushed down toilets or sinks, contact lenses break down into smaller particles known as microplastics. These tiny particles can easily pass through water treatment facilities and end up in oceans and rivers.
Marine life can mistakenly consume these microplastics, causing harm to them and eventually entering the human food chain.
A study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology indicated that polymers found in contact lenses are denser than water, causing them to sink in aquatic environments.
This makes them more likely to be consumed by bottom-feeding organisms, initiating a chain of consumption that can lead to larger marine animals and, eventually, to our dinner plates.
Landfills and Soil Pollution
Contacts that are thrown in the trash, if not managed appropriately, end up in landfills. While this might seem a safer option than flushing, it’s not entirely benign.
Landfilled contacts contribute to soil pollution as they release microplastics and other chemicals over time.
Proper Storage of Old Contacts
If you’re not ready to dispose of or repurpose your old contacts immediately, it’s crucial to store them properly. Here’s what I recommend:
Clean Storage: Always ensure the contacts are stored in a clean, dry container. Avoid leaving them in their old solution, as it may become a breeding ground for bacteria.
Labeling: If you’ve multiple pairs of old contacts, labeling helps. Note down the prescription, expiry date, and any other relevant details. This aids in easy identification for future use or disposal.
Repurposing Contacts: Beyond Art Projects
Mini Magnifying Glasses: With a bit of improvisation, contact lenses can be used as tiny magnifying glasses for intricate work or reading fine print.
Craft Projects: If you’re into DIY, contacts can be a component in jewelry-making or as decorative elements in homemade ornaments.
Beyond serving as a model for explaining eye anatomy, old contacts can be used in schools and colleges for various projects. For instance, demonstrating the concept of focal length, refraction, and light bending.
Organizations and Initiatives
While MADRE and local optometrists are great starting points for donating, there are other organizations worth considering:
- Lions Club International: Renowned for their eyewear collection drives, they often have drop-off points for old glasses and sometimes accept unopened contact lens boxes.
- New Eyes: A non-profit dedicated to providing clear vision to those in need. They accept unopened, unused contact lenses.
- Project Orbis: This organization focuses on preventing blindness worldwide and may accept donations of unopened contacts.
The Ethical Perspective
Beyond the tangible environmental and practical aspects, there’s an ethical dimension to consider. Contacts are a luxury for many. If you’re fortunate enough to afford them, it’s worth pausing and reflecting on the broader implications of disposal.
Ensuring they don’t contribute to environmental degradation or, conversely, become a resource for someone in need, can be a small but significant gesture of global citizenship.
Note: As always, when donating, ensure the contacts are in good condition, unexpired, and in their original, unopened packaging. Safety and hygiene are paramount.
While tossing old contacts might seem trivial, the environmental impact is noteworthy. By recycling, donating, repurposing, or even just disposing of them correctly, you’re playing a part in a larger ecological tapestry.
My sincerest recommendation? Tread thoughtfully with old contacts.
Can I reuse my old contacts?
From a medical perspective, reusing expired contacts is a big no-no. They can increase the risk of eye infections. Always stick to your eye doctor’s guidelines.
Is it okay to give my old contacts to a friend?
While the gesture is generous, sharing contact lenses is not advised due to the risk of transmitting eye infections.
How often should I change my contacts?
It entirely depends on the type of contacts you’re using. Daily lenses are for single use, bi-weekly ones last for two weeks, and monthly lenses, as the name suggests, last a month. Always follow your optometrist’s instructions.
Note: No matter your decision on handling old contacts, prioritize eye health and ecological responsibility.