How to recycle contact lenses and their packaging

how to reduce contact lens waste


This week I had a query from Waste Warrior, Henry, who wanted to know how to recycle contact lenses.

He wrote “My most frustrating area is my contact lenses. I need to wear them all day every day to function and recently changed from dailies to monthlies as that, in my mind would create less plastic. However there are two issues:

– all lens solution bottles are plastic and some don’t seem recyclable
– all of them come pre-packed with a plastic case holder to store the lenses in the solution overnight. I now have a stack of these in my bathroom cabinet #sadface

Have you come across any examples of people managing to avoid these two sources of very frustrating waste?”

I really feel for Henry, it’s so frustrating to make – what we think is a positive switch – only to end up with a different waste stream!

Recycling contact lenses and packaging

However, his query was timely, because just a month previous to reading Henry’s email I’d had an eye test and spotted a recycling container with a label stating that lenses and blister packs could be recycled.

contact lens recycling

I also queried Henry saying the solution bottles couldn’t be recycled. Dependent on where you live, there should be some sort of local recycling facility. My council, for example, will accept any type of plastic bottle, so it would be worth giving your local council a ring to see what they offer at your kerbside, local bring banks or household recycling centre. Failing that, type in your postcode to the Recycle now website and see what is available locally.

I don’t personally have experience of contact lenses, so I put the query out to our Facebook Group. Here’s what they said:

Recycle at your opticians

Amanda spotted a similar container to the one I saw at her branch of Specsavers, so it’s definitely worth encouraging your optician to offer this service.
And on further research, it seems that over 600 Boots opticians and many independent opticians are offering recycling points too.

Recycle at home – for free!

Tere put me in touch with Acuvue. According to Acuvue, you can collect a box of used lenses and blister packs then ship them free of charge for recycling. Visit the Acuvue site to download your label and arrange UPS collection.

Reuse contact lens cases

Mary shared three reuse ideas for contact lens cases:

  • some hikers/campers use them to take small portions of spices/condiments with them
  • earring storage- particularly for holidays
  • fill with poster paints to make nice little self limiting finger painting sets

What would you add to the list?

Reduce the waste

Carla said “If you get your lenses monthly you can tell them not to send you anymore cases or solution. I did this with specsavers. (can’t help with solution recycling but the supermarket ones are 80% cheaper). Save the packaging and take them back to Boots stores.”

Swap contact lenses for glasses

Emma wrote “I swapped to glasses! not for waste reasons… just too lazy for lenses but reuse is a bonus!”

Tanya said ” I switched to dailies and glasses, it means my eyes get more rest days, particularly in winter when I wear glasses more. I have a box in the bathroom that I collect the blister packs in ready for recycling.”

Alice shared “I just wear glasses to avoid it altogether. I have some dailies that I wear for special occasions but damn, I find them annoying. I have to get used to contacts all over again as I’m getting married next month. Not fun”

Look at the bigger picture

JT reminded us that health comes before environmental guilt.

They wrote “As an optician, I’d recommend thinking again. The monthly lenses aren’t as healthy for your eyes and the the chemical pollution will be far more from them than dailies. If you weigh out the monthly plastic of the cleaning chemicals v’s the dailies packaging and the transport pollution , you will prob find the dailies are better over all” JT pointed out that daily lenses are in saline ie salt water. The monthly lenses require chemical cleaning and disinfection and saline to rinse.

Consider laser surgery

Sharan agreed with JT, saying “Don’t skimp on eyes and what you need. There are other ways to be zero waste in daily life.” She went on to suggest a more permanent solution: “You can get laser eye surgery and therefore remove the need for dailies/ monthlies etc but it’s a big decision. You only get 2 eyes. Also with monthlies/ extended wear it’s more easy to miss out on eye health as I found out when I was banned from wearing lenses for a while by my opticians after lack of oxygen to eyes.”

Members have made good points about putting health before guilt. Taking a zero waste journey can be fraught with frustration and overwhelm about the best decisions to make and I fully support putting health before your zero waste aspirations. Without your health, you can’t do the other things to help protect the environment, right? If you find yourself feeling guilty about your decisions or pushing your health down the list, please get professional help. You don’t even need to leave your home for online counseling! Find out more here.

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Rachelle Strauss

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