The Surprising Way Your Contacts Lenses Are Harming the Environment

Posted by: Missouri Eye Institute in Blog on May 10, 2021

Young girl by the ocean with a crab

We know what you’re thinking: How can something as small and thin as a contact lens possibly have much of an impact on this great big Earth? It can’t—but billions of them can.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 45 million people in the United States rely on contact lenses to correct their vision. Worldwide, that number hovers around an astronomical 150 million.

Now think about this: In the U.S. alone, an estimated 20 percent of contact lens users dispose of their used contacts by flushing them down a toilet or sink drain. That means roughly 9 million people are introducing 12, 26, 52 or 365 little pieces of plastic each into the environment every single year. We’re getting into some real numbers here!

All those plastic disks travel from our wastewater into rivers, lakes, streams and oceans and eventually degrade, breaking down into smaller and smaller particles called “microplastics.” And, in fact, it’s “microplastics” that many environmental experts are concerned about.

Day after day, year after year, billions of plastic bottles, straws, utensils, wraps and more are improperly discarded and end up in the waterways of the earth. These products choke, injure and tangle up wildlife that live in and rely on these water sources. They can even emit chemicals that are harmful to animals. 

During the breakdown process, smaller fish and crustaceans can consume microplastics, and that consumption often leads to microplastics in our own food system. Many consider this an even more serious problem than the larger plastic pieces.

Which brings us to the unique threat caused by contact lenses: Plastic lenses, which are already small, break down into microplastics more quickly than plastic bags and bottles. They also retain much of the contamination they pick up during their journey through sewage and wastewater overflows.

So, the fish or lobster on your dinner plate may well have swallowed bits of material that spent a fair amount of time marinating in an unsavory microplastics sludge. If the plight of our marine life doesn’t move you, think about what you’re eating!

To spare seafaring critters—and you—from the unhealthy hazards, the answer is quite simple. Deposit them in the trash or take advantage of contact lens recycling programs to ensure you have a positive impact on Mother Earth.

Of course, the most certain way to keep contact lens microplastics out of the environment is to stop using them. Consider LASIK vision correction so you can reduce or eliminate your need for contacts altogether!

Missouri Eye Institute has helped thousands of patients attain freedom from glasses and contact lenses. Call us at (800) 383-3831 to schedule a LASIK consultation or visit to learn more about our services.



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