Ever wonder what the most environmentally friendly contact lens choice is? I’m here to help you navigate the options and to help you consider the full waste stream not just the lenses themselves. Let’s get started!
Don’t feel bad if you wear contacts
Before we dig in, it’s important to note that the difference in waste between various types of prescriptions is minimal; don’t worry about whether your astigmatism, multifocal or really high prescription is making your lens less sustainable. The weight of the lenses may vary a little but compared to the rest of the waste stream, it’s minimal.
Also, I love contact lenses. The goal of this article is to explore a little slice of our life in a way you might not have thought about it before, and to see if we can optimize our resources. It’s not meant to make you feel bad for wearing one type over another, or wearing lenses at all. From my research, contact lenses create much less waste than many other products in our lives, such as the plastic packaging used with food and all the excess packing material used for electronics.
Monthly vs Single Use
You’d think a monthly lens would create less waste than using a new lens every day, but you’d be wrong. According to a 2012 study, the amount of plastic in a year’s worth of daily contact lenses (365×2) is just over 11 grams. These lenses, along with their blister packs, can be recycled with TerraCycle. (Eyecare Associates of Lee’s Summit is a collection site). The cardboard and the plastic solution bottles can be recycled also. The amount of plastic in 730 blister packs weighs about as much as a large solution bottle; most monthly replacement contact lens wearers use about 4-5 bottles of solution a year. Since most plastic can only be reused once when it is recycled, the more sustainable choice is still the single use lens.
Most contact lens cases can’t be recycled. A single multipurpose solution contact lens case weighs about as much as 4 year’s worth of single use lenses and a hydrogen peroxide case (without the metal disc) weighs as much as 8 year’s worth.
In the world of single use lenses, not all lenses use blister packaging. Menicon’s Miru 1 Day is the only lens that uses a flat package, creating a solid 1/5 the waste of conventional blister packaging, making it the best choice for least waste created; the foil is recyclable with TerraCycle. Menicon also packages their 30 and 90 day supplies in recycled plastic secondary cases from waste they create in their manufacturing process.
What about sleeping in contact lenses?
While sleeping in your contacts may not be the healthiest thing for your eyes, it might be the healthiest choice for the planet. This option gets a gold star as the most sustainable lens, as long as you don’t get an eye infection in the process. When using only ~24 lenses a year and a small amount of solution (I recommend to my patients they should disinfect them once a week), the waste you generate is almost non-existent. There are specific contacts that are designed for sleeping in that are both comfortable and let a lot of oxygen pass through. If you want to try this option, make sure your lenses are safe to sleep in. Not all lenses are created equal: when in doubt take it out!
Other things to consider about sustainability
Another thing to consider is shipping: even though cardboard can be recycled, the fuel used to get them to your home can’t. Having your lenses sent to you in 1 package a year is a better choice than receive them more frequently; getting a small package monthly is the worst. Our philosophy at Eyecare Associates is to dispense your lenses while you’re in our office if possible. The next best option is to mail a year’s worth of lenses to your home. If you pick them up in the office, there is no additional fuel used, as you were coming in anyway; and on our side, we can receive large more efficient shipments a few times a year.
Many of the lens manufacturing companies like Menicon (makers of Miru), Alcon (makers of Air Optix and Dailies) and Eye care division of Johnson & Johnson (makers of Acuvue productive like Oasys), recycle or reuse many parts of the manufacturing process and make an effort to be socially responsible.
What about hard lenses?
Small hard lenses can be an excellent choice as you use the same pair of lenses for many years; if you recycle the solution bottles, minimal trash is created. Scleral lenses create the most plastic waste because they need both solutions for cleaning and non-preserved solutions to fill the lens when you insert it; all of theses bottles can be recycled thankfully.
Summary of most environmentally friendly contact lens options to the least (in my humble opinion):
- Monthly lenses you sleep in most of the time (no solution, and only 24 lenses a year)
- Miru 1 day lenses (flat pack foil package)
- All other single use lenses, like Dailies or Biotrue 1 Day (no solution bottle or cases)
- Small rigid gas permeable lenses, aka hard lenses (1 pair of lenses, lens cases + solution bottles)
- Monthly disposable lenses with multipurpose solution (12 pairs, contact lens cases + solution bottles)
- Monthly disposable lenses with peroxide solution (12 pairs, contact lens cases + solution bottles)
- 2-week disposable lenses with multipurpose solution (24 pairs, contact lens cases + solution bottles)
- 2-week disposable lenses with peroxide solution (24 pairs, contact lens cases + solution bottles)
- Scleral or hybrid lenses (pair of lenses, plethora of saline vials/bottles, cases +cleaning/storage solution bottle
Our skilled team can help you see more clearly for life! Call or Text us 816-524-8900 or schedule your eye exam online today.
Posted on April 29, 2021 by Laura Nennig, OD; she specializes in contact lens fittings, with advanced training with scleral lenses.