Published: Tue, August 21, 2018
Markets | By Otis Pena

Eye-opening study: Many people flush old contact lenses away

Eye-opening study: Many people flush old contact lenses away

Arizona State PhD student Charles Rolsky, co-author of the study quoted in an ASU article said, contact lens use amounts to "1.8-3.36 billion lenses flushed per year, or about 20-23 metric tons of wastewater-borne plastics annually".

Rolsky and his colleagues Rolf Halden and Varun Kelkar-all from the Biodesign Institute's Center for Environmental Health Engineering at ASU-were already studying plastic pollution, when Halden, a long-time contact lens wearer, started looking into what happens to those single-use lenses. Thankfully, unlike most types of environmental pollutions, this one has an incredibly simple solution: chuck contact lenses in the bin, don't flush them down the drain. Next the researchers surveyed more than 400 contact lens users about how they dispose of the products, finding that 21 percent discard their lenses down the toilet or sink.

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.

"We began looking into the USA market and conducted a survey of contact lens wearers".

Lenses that are washed down the drain ultimately end up in wastewater treatment plants.

Tiny fish and plankton can mistake microplastics for food.

The lenses tend to sink to the bottom of holding tanks at treatment facilities and where microbes only partially break down into small bits and microplastics.

And those lenses later end up contributing to pollution in oceans, lakes and rivers, stated the study.

Some scientists at Arizona State University asked that question and found that a lot of them are going down the sink or getting flushed down the toilet - adding to the problem of microplastic pollution. That result suggests that a significant number of lenses are ending up in waste-water treatment plants - a conclusion they confirmed after visiting treatment plants and spying lenses in the water.

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"Then we began looking into the USA market and conducted a survey of contact-lens wearers", said Rolsky, a PhD student who is presenting the work. They even come in tiny packets of saline solution. When these microplastics persist in the environment they can be consumed by animals, birds or insects and make their way into the food chain.

Halden said people don't think of the lenses as plastic waste because they feel like fluid, nearly like water.

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

Municipalities can choose to put the sludge into landfill sites, or incinerate it - or take "the most common approach, which is done to about 55 per cent of all the biosolids produced in the United States, which is applying them on land", Halden said.

Throwing Away Your Contact Lenses?

Even better he said would be for manufacturers to make it easier to recycle plastic contact lenses.

The researchers want manufacturers to provide information on the label, informing people how to properly dispose of their contacts.

Now a research team based in the USA has shown for the first time how they can get eaten by fish and other marine life and be returned to us on our plates.

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