Should You Recycle Your Contact Lenses?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 45 million Americans regularly wear contact lenses. Because of the nature of contact lenses and their packaging, millions of Americans are replacing or opening new lenses daily. Surprisingly, the packaging waste and used lenses can create a source of pollution and with the addition of daily disposable lenses, the problem becomes significant. This growing problem is critical to us here at Medical Eye Center, and we are working to reduce our own contact lens waste by partnering with Terracycle.

What is Terracycle?

A private company based in New Jersey, Terracycle utilizes a recycling platform to collect consumer waste that is not traditionally recyclable and turn it into new raw materials. They focus on ‘brand-sponsored’ recycling, which helps companies focus on the lifespan of their products and packaging and think about longevity. If the materials can be recycled, the company pays for the pre-paid labels that enable their customers to return packaging to Terracycle. It’s an investment for the companies, but it helps many brands make more conscious efforts than switching to sustainable packaging all at once. In addition to their free recycling programs, they also offer services that collect waste from companies and their facilities and then clean, sort, and recycle the materials. They are always innovating new ways to make recycling more accessible and affordable for many people.

What does that have to do with contact lenses?

Unfortunately, contact lenses and their plastic packaging are not recyclable in traditional programs. Their small size makes them impossible to sort, and they should not be flushed down the toilet or sink drains where they can end up in the soil and ocean waters. Terracycle is changing how these materials are being used, and we are proud to partner with them. Here at Medical Eye Center, we have been recycling these packaging and items for a couple of years, and it’s added up to over 60 pounds of waste that will not be making its way into landfills and waterways. Contact lenses are a surprising source of pollution, especially as the industry is shifting towards disposable contacts. What is most exciting is that Terracycle now includes contact lens cases and empty artificial tear vials (not bottles) in addition to foil lids, blister packs, and used lenses.

What do I need to do to collect these and turn them in?

Our Medical Eye Center staff is happy to help you recycle these items by providing collection bins under each sink in our offices and in the contact lens office. If you collect your own packaging at home, there is no need to separate each type, you can simply save them and bring any items/pieces in together.

What happens to the items I bring in?

Excitingly, once these items are collected, the contact lenses and blister packs are carefully cleaned and sorted by material type. These are then turned into raw materials that can be turned into new products. This helps create a circular process instead of a linear one where used products end up in landfills.

If you have any questions, please inquire at our offices, and we will be happy to guide you through the process. We are grateful for your support as we seek to employ the best, most environmentally-friendly practices.