Even contact lenses can – and should – be recycled, says Dr. Chris McQuivey of Eye Care Associates.
The local practice has partnered with Bausch and Lomb, a Canadian eye health products company, to become an official ONE by ONE recycling center for contact lenses and their packaging in Flagstaff – one of only two local practices to do so.
Whether thrown away or discarded down a sink or toilet, contact lenses are polluting landfills and waterways because they are too small and durable to be processed by typical recycling facilities. The Bausch and Lomb program allows lens wearers to recycle both lenses and their packaging (blister packs) for free through participating eye care providers or by mail.
Any contact lens wearer, not just patients at the practice, can drop off their old lenses and blister packaging to the Eye Care Associates office during regular business hours. The process is simple: separate the blister foil from the plastic and place both pieces in the green ONE by ONE box, along with any old lenses.
All contact lenses, no matter the type or brand, can be recycled through this program. The cardboard boxes in which the contact lenses arrive should be recycled through local recycling services, not the Bausch and Lomb program. Old lens materials can also be mailed directly from home by printing a free shipping label from the ONE by ONE webpage.
Though small, and nearly imperceptible when worn, contact lenses have produced exponentially more waste throughout the years as they became more disposable. Annual lenses were phased out, and daily disposable lenses became a popular replacement, bringing with them 728 more disposable blister packs per year. OOGP, Eye Care Associates’ contact lens distributer, revealed that 58 percent of the practice’s contact lens sales were daily replacements.
“We probably have 10,000 blister packs just sitting right here,” McQuivey said of the practice’s in-office supply of sample disposable lenses, which include daily, biweekly and monthly varieties.
More and more optometrists are encouraging patients to switch to daily disposables because they are safer, cleaner and overall healthier options for the eye than their longer-term counterparts. The amount of generated waste, though, has been a concern for some of McQuivey’s patients.
This recycling program is designed to combat those concerns. Since the program started in late 2016, Bausch and Lomb reports recycling more than four million lens items totaling over 25,000 pounds. There are currently more than 2,000 participating practices throughout the country; locally, Eye Care Associates is joining Flagstaff Eye Care to offer this service.
McQuivey said, because contact lenses are so small, wearers often do not consider the ramifications of throwing away – or worse, flushing – their old lenses, which often end up in landfills or waterways. The lenses are small enough to be eaten by fish and other wildlife, who are later consumed by humans.
“It’s nonbiodegradable plastic. It can’t be biodegradable because it’s in your eyeball,” McQuivey said. “They’re too small, they go through all of the separators. And the little foil packs are recyclable, but most municipalities won’t recycle them.”
Bausch and Lomb is working with TerraCycle, a company which specializes in recycling the “non-recyclable.” According to its website, “TerraCycle can collect and recycle almost any form of waste.” This partnership allows the recycling program to be completely free to all consumers and practices.
Once the materials have been collected, TerraCycle will separate the lenses from their blister packs and clean them. The foil is recycled separately, while the lenses and blister packs are melted together to form other products.
“I hope everyone does it,” said Rebecca McQuivey, marketing manager at Eye Care Associates. “It’s a simple way to save on a whole lot of waste that is bad for the environment and for us.”
There is a limit to the number of practices that can participate in the recycling program, based on the quantity of waste that TerraCycle can recycle at one time. Eye Care Associates started earlier this month, after being waitlisted for about month. All interested practices can register online, but are also encouraged to speak with their Bausch and Lomb representative if they would like to participate.
As part of the program, for every shipment of 10 pounds or more from practices and two pounds or more from consumers, Bausch and Lomb will donate $1 per pound of donated materials to Optometry Giving Sight, a nonprofit that provides basic eye care services to people without access to them.
Eye Care Associates is located at 940 N. Switzer Canyon Drive, Suite 101, Flagstaff, AZ, 86001. For more information on contact lens recycling locations, or to print a free shipping label, visit www.BauschRecycles.com.
Kaitlin Olson can be reached at the office at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (928) 556-2253.