Exactly How Far Can You See with Those Contact Lenses?

Over the last generation, the use of disposable contact lenses has significantly increased. People find them more comfortable and convenient. In fact, disposable contact wearers can sleep in their lenses and store spare pairs at work, at home and in the car. They can have lenses delivered right to their door—and, of course, just toss them away after use. All of this is great, except for one thing: how people are disposing of these lenses. Researchers recently discovered that somewhere between 6.5 and 9 million people who wear contact lenses get rid of them by flushing them down the toilet or sink. This equates to approximately 1.8 to 3.36 billion lenses—or between 20 and 23 metric tons of plastic—being flushed every year.

We’ve devoted several Water Street blogs to such topics as how flushed objects wind their way through the water system and what type of havoc seemingly flushable items can wreak on the water supply. So I won’t overexplain why this tremendous quantity of plastic from flushed contact lenses is of great concern. While the lenses that end up in sewer systems can be broken down in wastewater treatment facilities, they still live on as microplastics that impact our environment. Needless to say, the short-sighted convenience of flushing contact lenses has clouded people’s long-term vision for a safer, more sustainable environment!

To help with disposal, some contact lens companies are putting proper disposal instructions on their packaging and setting up “give back” programs that allow people to return used lenses for recycling. But if this option isn’t available to you, simply dispose of them in the trash with other nonflushable solid waste.

And speaking of nonflushable waste, I’d be remiss if I didn’t use this opportunity to offer a refresher on what should and shouldn’t be flushed. The best rule of all is, if it’s not human waste or toilet paper, don’t flush it. Here are some items commonly considered “flushable” that should never be flushed:

  1. “Flushable” wipes
  2. Paper towels, napkins
  3. Feminine hygiene products
  4. Diapers
  5. Dental floss
  6. Grease, oil, fat and food
  7. Bandages
  8. Pills and other medication
  9. Goldfish and eels (I couldn’t resist this one, because eel-flushing has been documented!)

So the next time you look at your bowl and consider flushing something, think of its future impact and dispose of it in the proper way.