Contact Lenses Not Biodegradable, Fragments Found in Water

Jennifer Chae a beauty blogger from Kansas City shows off an Asian style circle lens on the tip of her finger in Overland Park Kan

Jennifer Chae a beauty blogger from Kansas City shows off an Asian style circle lens on the tip of her finger in Overland Park Kan

About 45 million people in the USA alone use contact lenses, according to a survey conducted by the researchers, and between 15 percent and 20 percent of those users said they flush their used lenses down the toilet or sink.

The researchers are presenting their results today at the 256th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS). 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.

An American study has found that old contact lenses are becoming a source of more plastic pollution in waterways and oceans.

Although the research found that lenses do partially break down in those plants, parts of them still remain intact and end up in water supplies, which is risky for marine life.

The study said that in the U.S alone about 45 million people wear contact lenses.

These differences make processing contact lenses in wastewater plants a challenge. Marine organisms are known to consume these tiny plastic fragments, and recent studies have shown microplastic contamination in fish and shellfish are ending up on people's dinner plates.

The researchers broke the study into three core parts.

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.

Do you flush your contact lenses, rather than put them in the garbage? You might want to stop doing that
Contact Lenses Not Biodegradable, Fragments Found in Water

That's because a new study finds that discarding contacts lenses in these ways may ultimately end up contributing to microplastic pollution in waterways. "We found that there were noticeable changes in the bonds of the contact lenses after long-term treatment with the plant's microbes", says Kelkar.

To figure out if the lenses biodegrade, the researchers subjected five of the polymers commonly used in contact lenses to anaerobic and aerobic microorganisms typically found in wastewater plants, for different amounts of time.

'We found 19 per cent of contact wearers are flushing the lenses down the sink or toilet'. Rain could wash lenses into rivers and oceans, where they would float like tiny, tentacle-less jellyfish. "Once these lenses dry, they become incredibly brittle and will very likely shatter into very small particles".

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

Many people rely on contact lenses to improve their vision. These animals are part of a long food chain. He pointed out that some manufacturers have already begun recycling programs to reclaim the plastic from lenses. However, Rolsky says wearers should be more mindful about how they dispose them once they're not needed anymore.

Contact lens companies often provide no package instructions about where to dispose of lenses, the ASU researchers note.

Some lenses accidentally fall somewhere upon removal or are tossed in the garbage, but many people choose to "just flush them because they have no instructions on what to do with them", he said. "We'd love to have a dialogue [with manufacturers] and establish a solid protocol for consumers to dispose of or even recycle their contact lenses", Rolsky says.

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