Which is more environmentally-friendly: glasses or contact lenses?
If you need vision correction but are trying to live a green lifestyle, you've likely faced this dilemma. Chances are that you have already thought about whether glasses or contact lenses are the better option. Many people choose to wear glasses because they assume it is the less wasteful route; however, let's review the facts. Contact lens companies have made great strides in alternative technology, by incorporating more earth-friendly materials and methods in favor of minimizing the amount of waste associated with contact lens wear.
Here are some answers to the most frequently asked questions about contact lens wear and the environment.
1) Are contact lenses biodegradable?
No. Newer disposable soft contact lenses are made of silicone-hydrogel, a plastic material that is designed to readily absorb water to keep them soft. Because plastics are not biodegradable, they can persist for decades. This makes them unsuitable for compost and harmful in the trash. Researchers have been working to develop a soy-based biodegradable contact lens, but that technology is not yet available.
2) What impact does contact lens waste have on the environment?
A 2003 study found overall contact lens waste at just 0.5% of total personal waste. Although wearing contact lenses does produce waste, studies performed by J & J Vision Care Inc. show that the impact on the environment due to wearing contact lenses – whether the lenses are daily disposables or reusable – is much less than that of other household plastic products disposed of every day.
The following information is an excerpt from a 2012 study:
An annual supply of daily disposable contact lenses (365 pairs) produced 11.36 g of dehydrated plastic waste, or a little more than would go into the production of two credit cards. Comparatively, reusable lenses (biweekly and monthly wear) require solution bottles and cases. One bottle of multipurpose solution has an average weight equivalent to 2.5 years of daily contact lenses. One multipurpose solution storage case is equivalent to over a 4 year supply of daily contact lenses, whereas a peroxide case is equal to more than 8 years worth of lenses! Other types of household plastic products discarded each day, such as a 20 oz bottle of water, has the equivalent weight of 1,586 dehydrated contact lenses (a 2.17 year supply).
3) Can I recycle my contact lenses and packaging?
Yes and no. You can recycle contact lens-related waste including:
Opened plastic blister packs (unopened packs are not permitted)
Cardboard box packaging
Plastic solution bottles and cases
Cardboard boxes and plastic packaging are recyclable through your regular municipal recycling. The top foil cannot be recycled and must be removed prior to recycling plastic blister packs.
*Contact lenses cannot be recycled ordinarily. Their very small size makes it nearly impossible for most recycling facility’s machinery to sort them appropriately, meaning that your lenses ultimately end up in landfills anyways.
Here are a couple ways to reduce your impact:
Method 1: Recycle plastic blister packs
You can recycle the #5 Polypropylene plastic blister packs through the Preserve Products Gimme 5 Program. Find a Gimme 5 Drop off location near you. Another tip: collect your empty blister packs in a plastic water bottle and recycle it once it's full.
Method 2: Recycle all contact lens-related waste
The Bausch + Lomb ONE by ONE Recycling Program allows used contact lenses and packaging to be recycled properly, with the goal of reducing landfill waste associated with contact lenses. It is the first sponsored contact lens recycling program from Bausch + Lomb and TerraCycle, a global leader in recycling hard-to-recycle waste. Once received, the contact lenses and blister packs are separated and cleaned. The metal layers of the blister packs are recycled separately, while the contact lenses and plastic blister pack components are melted into plastic that can be remolded to make recycled products. All brands of contact lenses are accepted and it's completely free for you to use. You can print a free shipping label or find a local drop off location.
4) Can I reuse my contact lens solutions?
No. Only use fresh solution when cleaning, disinfecting, and storing your contact lenses. You should not reuse or "top off" contact lens solution because it dilutes the disinfecting power, which could leave you at risk for an eye infection. Contact lens solution should be discarded and replenished daily.
5) What are contact lens companies doing to become more sustainable?
Bausch + Lomb was the first contact lens manufacturer to introduce an environmentally friendly biodegradable lens shipping package, and they continue to innovate new ways to go greener. They use 100% recyclable molded paper fiber packaging, created clear PET packaging for its renu solution, and added universally accepted recycling codes to its solution product bottles. As aforementioned, Bausch + Lomb's ONE by ONE Recycling Program is the first sponsored contact lens recycling program that allows used contact lenses and packaging to be recycled properly.
Johnson & Johnson has achieved Earthwards® recognition for their most improved products, such as ACUVUE® OASYS®. To reduce polypropylene usage and waste, J&J Vision Care, Inc. completely redesigned the blister holding ACUVUE contact lenses and their fluid. This allows opposing blisters to nest, thereby requiring less packages, and subsequently, producing less waste. CooperVision has won numerous awards for their sustainable practices. In 2016, they opened an energy efficient manufacturing plant in Costa Rica that recycles up to 90% of its solid waste, 100% of plastic components generated by the manufacturing process, and derives 90% of the facility’s electricity from by renewable sources.
And finally, the answer you've been waiting for...
6) Which is more eco-friendly: glasses or contact lenses?
There is some controversy over this. According to the 2003 Eurolens study, a year's worth of daily disposables (360 pairs) produces 9.125 grams of plastic. Comparatively, one pair of eyeglasses produces approximately 35 grams of plastic (equal to almost four years’ worth of daily disposable contacts). Of course, the amount of raw material needed to produce a pair of eyeglasses can vary, depending on the type of plastic used, the prescription, and the shape of the frame.
This research excludes several important factors, namely the accessories, packaging, and solutions. Once you factor in these items, a year’s supply of daily disposable lenses (360 pairs) produces 953 grams of plastic, whereas monthlies (12 pairs and 12 bottles of solution) produce 549 grams. Conversely, eyeglasses don't have packaging waste and can be donated to charitable organizations to be repurposed or recycled when you're ready for a new pair.
In summary, eyeglasses produce less than a pound of trash, compared to daily disposable contact lenses which weigh in at a total just over two pounds.
Click to read the third installment of the Eco-Conscious Eye Care Series on Green Business Practices.
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