Medicine

Old contact lenses add to microplastic pollution

Old contact lenses add to microplastic pollution

A new study on contact lenses is proving to be eye-opening. If you're tossing your disposable lenses down the sink or flushing them in your toilet, you're adding to the problem.

Contacts don't break down in septic tanks or in sewer systems.

According to a new study led by the Arizona State University (ASU), there are now over 45 million people in the United States alone using contact lenses on their eyes.

There are filters created to keep larger objects from ending up in wastewater treatment plants, but contact lenses are small and flexible, so they can get through those filters pretty easily.

Microplastics are bits of plastic that have been worn down into tiny pieces that are smaller than 5 millimeters.

According to the study, those lenses later ended up contributing to pollution in oceans, lakes, and rivers. It is common for a person to have multiple pairs of lenses and some of them are disposed off after a few months of use.

"Don't put those lenses into wastewater".




The study, presented at an American Chemical Society meeting in Boston, was inspired by personal experience.

Well, you shouldn't flush them down the toilet or wash them down the sink.

A number of people depend upon contact lenses to enhance their vision.

About 45 million people in the US 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. Contacts tend to be denser than water, which means they sink, and this could ultimately pose a threat to aquatic life, especially bottom feeders that may ingest the contacts, Halden says. This leads to smaller plastic particles forming microplastics. "Considering how 45 million people in the USA alone wear lenses, that amounts to about 1.8 to 3.36 billion lenses flushed out every year, that means about 20,000 to 30,000 kg of plastic added as wastewater every year". They noted that 11 brands of soft contact lenses did not advise their users about proper disposal of the lenses. The plastic as a microplastic can also enter waterways through runoff where they can again enter the foodchain as microplastic is often mistaken by aquatic creatures as food.

The answer, Halden believes, isn't to ban contact lenses. Some, in the end, find their way to the human food supply, which could result in undesirable human exposures to plastic contaminants and pollutants that adhere to the surfaces of the plastics.

'We found that there were noticeable changes in the bonds of the contact lenses after long-term treatment with the plant's microbes, ' said Varun Kelkar, another researcher on the team from ASU, when speaking to Mail Online. Since oceans support complex food chains, microplastics can pass from the small fry to larger fish and eventually end up on your plate (or in your glass).

By calling attention to this first-of-its-kind research, the team hopes that industry will take note and at minimum, provide a label on the packaging describing how to properly dispose of contact lenses, which is by placing them with other solid waste.


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