A Consumer’s Struggle: Contact Lenses and Solutions

I’ve been meaning to post this for a while, but as I am getting more into the zero waste movement, I find that if I try hard enough, I can find plastic alternatives for many of the products I use, from swapping plastic kitchen utensils for stainless steel or wooden ones, or grocery shopping with cloth grocery mesh and shopping bags.

When it comes to bathroom products, it gets a bit trickier. I have seen some alternatives for toothpastes, such as Bite’s toothpaste bits, Who Gives a Crap toilet paper, and LUSH deodorant bars. The one thing I haven’t seen a solution for so far is contact lenses and contact lens solution in plastic-free packaging! As a contact lens wearer for nearly 15 years, I can’t even fathom how many contact lenses I have thrown away and how many bottles of solution I have gone through. If you weren’t aware, contact lenses are made of flexible plastic, and for as long as I knew in the US, they were not recyclable, and definitely could notbe flushed down the toilet because they will break down into microplastics and end up in our oceans.

Photo Credit: Insider article

As a general rule of thumb when it comes to eye safety and hygiene, one is supposed to rinse their contact lenses after use each time to wash off any pollution or bacteria that could lead to an eye infection. I wash my contacts conservatively, way less than I should, but I still think I go through quite a few bottles per year, and while these bottles are recycled, I think the contact lens industry can do better and find alternative packaging materials. I mean, we have water bottles made from plant materials, and companies like Coca-Cola, Dasani, and Unilever are innovating and working to develop bottles that use recycled PET and plant-based materials, so why aren’t contact lens solution companies doing more to develop solutions?

I recently learned that there is a partnership between Bausch & Lomb and TerraCycle to recycle contact lens packaging and the contacts themselves! So if you haven’t had a chance to sign up and start recycling your contact lens packaging (this includes the foil you rip off, the plastic container that holds the contact lens, and the contact lenses themselves) and send them in to recycle – they even provide a free shipping label for your convenience 🙂 In the UK, a recycling system has been rolled out where consumers can drop off their contact lenses and packaging at any participating store, where they will be later upcycled to make other products such as outdoor furniture–so cool!

I am ending this post on a positive note with these great recycling solutions, but really want to put the onus on the manufacturers to rethink their packaging choices and think of biodegradable, compostable packaging that can make for a lesser environmental impact because true proper, worldwide recycling of these materials will not happen overnight and manufacturers and producers have the responsibility of making it easier for consumers to make the right decisions.