Eye-opening study: Many people flush old contact lenses away

Mae Love
Августа 20, 2018

Tonnes of ecologically damaging "microplastics" are being dumped into the world's oceans each year by people who flush disposable contact lenses down the sink or toilet, research indicates. Next the researchers surveyed more than 400 contact lens users about how they dispose of the products, finding that 21 percent discard their lenses down the toilet or sink. "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.

By using data from the major contact lens manufacturers about the various types of contacts purchased (daily, biweekly or monthly), the ASU researchers were able to calculate that Americans wear a total of 13.2 to 14.7 billion lenses a year. Thus, pollution from contact lenses has avoided detection until now.

"They are a real improvement in quality of life and are a justified use of plastic, so if we decide as a society that we want to use plastic for these purposes, we should also present the consumer with the chance to get rid of these materials in a responsible fashion". It also includes the first in-depth analysis of how they degrade. "This leads to smaller plastic particles which would ultimately lead to the formation of microplastics".

According to new research, an estimated up to 3.36 billion disposable plastic lenses per year end up joining U.S. wastewater systems as nefarious bits of microplastic pollution.

"From past studies, we know that microplastics are able to absorb contaminants at a much higher level than what's found in the surrounding environment", Charlie Rolsky, a postdoctoral student involved in the study, told Time. "This a pretty large number, considering roughly 45 million people in the USA alone wear contact lenses".

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, researchers said.

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'But I started to wonder, has anyone done research on what happens to these plastic lenses?'

Aquatic organisms can mistake microplastics for food and since plastics are indigestible, this dramatically affects the marine animals' digestive system.

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. They found that 19 percent of contact lens wearers flushed them down the drain when they didn't need them anymore. When these microplastics persist in the environment they can be consumed by animals, birds or insects and make their way into the food chain.

Wastewater treatment facilities in the USA simply don't do a good enough job of filtering out the tons of contact lenses that are disposed of through the sewer system, according to new research presented Sunday at the American Chemical Society's meeting in Boston.

They are often made with a combination of poly (methylmethacrylate), silicones and fluoropolymers to create a softer material that allows oxygen to pass through the lens to the eye. "[The study researchers'] method of making assumptions and estimations is quite reasonable", she adds.

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