Contact lenses are an ideal alternative to eyeglasses, but their disposable quality — scientists estimate up to 2.9 billion contact lenses are tossed away in the United States every year — can turn them into a hazardous pollutant, especially if they’re not properly recycled.

“Once a person is finished using a contact lens, it automatically becomes unwanted plastic waste, and that has the potential for extreme pollution,” explains Dr. Vivienne Velasco of Las Vegas-based iFocus Vision Center. “Recycling contacts, along with contact lens packaging, prevents that waste from ending up doing damage to our environment.”

Pain In the Drain

Las Vegans, especially, are at risk of pollutants in the city’s water supply. The Clark County Water Reclamation District, which provides wastewater collection and treatment services for the Las Vegas Valley, works to educate the public of these dangers through its long-running “Pain In the Drain” campaign. Contact lenses, along with household essentials such as cleaning wipes and medicines, are among the serious threats to community health.

“Throwing contact lenses in the sink or the toilet creates unwanted plastic waste in our sewer system,” Dr. Velasco warns. “Microorganisms found in our sewers can break down the plastic waste into microplastics, which can potentially end up in our food.”

Recycling Your Contact Lenses

That’s what makes recycling such an attractive solution for contact lens wearers. iFocus Vision Center has partnered with Bausch & Lomb and Terracycle’s One By One Recycling Program to help patients in the Las Vegas area dispose of their contacts properly.

“iFocus has always tried to find ways to reduce its carbon footprint,” Dr. Velasco says. “Whether it is recycling all the paper and boxes we have in the office or purchasing paper goods that use post-consumer waste, it is our goal to do our part to protect the environment.

“When Bausch & Lomb informed us of their recycling program, we jumped at the opportunity to get involved, because we go through so many contact lenses and blister packages, and because those materials are normally not recyclable by conventional means.”

What to Do With Your Used Contacts

Patients can bring their contact lenses and packaging to iFocus Vision Center during an appointment and drop them off for recycling. If a patient wants to dispose of that waste on their own, they can sign up for a Terracycle accountand receive free shipping labels to package and send off their contact lens waste.

Once that excess waste is received by the One By One Recycling Program, the lenses and blister packs are “separated by composition and cleaned,” according to Bausch & Lomb. Metals are recycled separately, while contact lenses and plastic elements are melted down so that they can be remolded for future, recyclable, products.

Dr. Velasco also urges those patients who don’t recycle not to flush their contact lenses.

“Just throw them away in the trash,” she says.

iFocus Vision Center remains open with strict guidelines in place to protect patients and staff members. Patients with an urgent need are seen by appointment only, and iFocus offers curbside pickup for eyeglasses or contact lens refills. To schedule an appointment, contact us at 702-473-5660.