Contact Lenses Are a Surprising Source of Pollution

Putting those contact lenses down the drain after you use them isn't a good idea for the environment a new study says

PUHHHA/123RF Putting those contact lenses down the drain after you use them isn't a good idea for the environment a new study says

He said he thinks the research can help "start a dialogue with the producers of contact lenses and to work with them to take better care of the material flow" - and to encourage them to include instructions on their packaging to let consumers know to toss them in the trash. They found that even after seven days of exposure, the lenses appeared intact, though lab analysis detected small changes in the material.

An American study found that millions of old contact lenses end up at water treatment plants, are broken down into microplastics and can enter the ecosystem. Further, the plastics used in contact lenses are different from other plastic waste, such as polypropylene, which can be found in everything from auto batteries to textiles.

"Good for the contact lens wearer during use, not so good when the things get out into the environment".

The study said that in the U.S alone about 45 million people wear contact lenses.

Every year, Americans flush 2.6 to 2.9 billion contact lenses down the drain, according to new research from Arizona State University.

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A study estimates that between six and ten tonnes of plastic lenses end up in wastewater in the United States alone each year. "So I would be concerned that there would be more of an impact with these microplastics than with the other materials due to their ability to absorb various toxins in the environment, like pesticides and herbicides, and really hyper-concentrate these chemicals and move them into the food chain and up the food chain".

It's then spread on farmland as sewage sludge which then ends up in the oceans when it's washed away by heavy rain.

The researchers are concerned that this poses an ecological risk and may allow the accumulation of persistent toxic pollutants in vulnerable organisms such as worms and birds. The team concluded that microbes in the wastewater treatment facility actually altered the surface of the contact lenses, weakening the bonds in the plastic polymers. They found that 19 percent of contact lens wearers flushed them down the drain when they didn't need them anymore.

There are filters created to keep larger objects from ending up in wastewater treatment plants, but contact lenses are small and flexible, so they can get through those filters pretty easily.

Mr Kelkar said: 'When the plastic loses some of its structural strength, it will break down physically.

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"There's been a lot of research done on single-use, lower-value plastics such as straws, silverware and plastic bags", says Charles Rolsky, an ASU doctoral student and the study's lead author.

Obviously, people shouldn't stop wearing contact lenses altogether.

Lenses are not generally recycled, although one of the largest manufacturers Bausch + Lomb introduced a programme previous year.

Contact lens packages don't now tell users how to dispose of them, said Halden, who suggested that companies should add labels recommending that contacts be put in the garbage rather than washed down the drain.

After noticing that very little research has looked at what happens to old contact lenses, Arizona State University researchers conducted a survey of 139 individuals, both lens wearers and non-wearers.

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