As an eco-conscious eye care advocate, I like to talk about earth-friendly brands and companies. In fact, some of my very first blog posts were about sustainable eyewear, contact lenses, and green business practices. Years later, the news is littered with stories about microplastic pollution and the shift away from disposable utensils; TV shows about tiny homes; and lifestyle trends focused on minimalism and reducing your carbon footprint. Yet, I still find that most people are surprised to hear that you can recycle your contact lenses and packaging, let alone that there's a free, nationwide recycling program specifically designed for contact lens waste.
ONE by ONE Recycling Program
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. The program has collected over 25,000 pounds of recycled lens items so far.
For every qualifying shipment of 2 pounds or more, a $1/lb donation is made to Optometry Giving Sight, a nonprofit working to prevent blindness and impaired vision for those who do not have access to eye exams and glasses/contacts. For more info, visit: http://www.givingsight.org
What can I recycle?
Through the One-By-One Recycling Program, you can recycle contact lens-related waste including:
+ Contact lenses (*all brands are accepted, not just B+L products)
+ Opened plastic blister packs (unopened packs are not permitted)
+ Top foil
Make sure to remove as much of the liquid from blister packs as possible before shipping. Cardboard boxes, plastic solution bottles, and contact lens cases are not accepted through the program but can be recycled through your regular municipal recycling.
If I can recycle contact lenses, can't I just toss them in the bin with my other recyclables?
See, that's where it gets tricky. Even if you make the effort to recycle contact lenses and packaging through standard recycling bins, they still end up in landfills. Due to their size and flexibility, contact lenses slip through filters meant to keep non-biological waste out of wastewater treatment plants -- ultimately contributing to the worldwide microplastic pollution problem. With over 45 million contact wearers in the United States, all that plastic adds up: about 22 metric tons of contact lenses are improperly disposed of every year.
Related Post: Eco-Conscious Eye Care Series - Part 2: Contact Lenses
What happens next?
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.
How can I participate?
The program is completely free for you to use. There are two ways to participate, depending on whether you're an ECP or consumer:
1. Recycle at an Eye Care Office
Eye care offices can sign up to be a ONE by ONE contact lens recycling center. This program is private and only available to eye care professionals in the continental U.S. (Unfortunately, eye care professionals located in Hawaii and Alaska are ineligible to participate in this program at this time). By signing up, you can download free shipping labels to send used contacts and blister packs for recycling. In addition, the office will receive a large cardboard collection bin for contact lens-related materials, promotional materials, and a pack of small cardboard boxes for patients to take with them to recycle at home.
At my office, we have promotional material on display and a collection bin conveniently located in the contact lens room for all contact lens wearers to see (and use) when they visit us for their annual eye exam. We encourage our patients to either take a personal recycling box home, or they may return to our office to drop off their contact lens waste for recycling.
2. Recycle at Home
Simply collect your recycling in a box and ship it out when it's full! While the program will accept shipments in any size, I encourage you to save up your recycling until you have enough to send in a larger shipment, which is more environmentally friendly. You can request a print a free shipping label or find a local drop off location at a participating eye care office. You can search your area for participating eye care offices using the locator map available on www.terracycle.com/bauschrecycles.