Eye Health Central

Recycling contact lenses

Can You Recycle Contact Lenses?

Are Contact Lenses Recyclable?

We are all involved in recycling - card, paper, aluminium cans, plastics (where possible) etc but what do we do about our contact lenses? Disposable contact lenses are now the most popular type of lenses since their introduction in 1987 and with over 3 million wearers in the UK alone, that’s a lot of potential waste.

Disposable lenses are typically made of silicone-hydrogel, which, like most plastics, does not biodegrade, which makes then unsuitable for compost or recycling. But it’s not all bad news although contact lenses themselves may not be recyclable yet, many of their individual parts are recyclable.

Contact lenses come in various parts

  • The delivery box - if like an increasing number of contact lens wearers you buy your contact lenses online
  • The contact lens outer box
  • The contact Lens blister
  • The contact lens

Can You Recycle Contact Lenses?

As you can imagine not all of these parts can be recycled the same way, let’s address them individually.

The Delivery box

Many contact lens companies and high street opticians deliver contact lenses direct to your door, in almost all cases the delivery box is recyclable, simply flatten the delivery box and put it in the recycle container.

Contact lens outer box

Almost all contact lenses have an outer protective box, this has two purposes, it is a great advertising tool reminding you what lenses you are wearing, their Power, Base Curve and Diameter, plus they act as a storage box, keeping your lenses together whether for 1, 3 or 6 months.

These outer boxes are easy to recycle, just like the delivery box, when you have finished your lenses simply flatten the box and put it in the recycling bin.

Can You Recycle Contact Lenses?

Contact lens blister

These small plastic blisters hold the contact lenses themselves along with a small amount of solution to keep your lenses hydrated until you use them - they are not completely recyclable yet, as they consist of two parts, the foil “lid” and the plastic container.

The foil lid, unfortunately, is not currently recyclable, so this part has to be placed in your general waste bin.

Plastic Blister -If you look very closely at the plastic blister you will see the recycle logo with pp05 or pp5 this means the plastic container is made of Polypropylene (PP) which is one of the safer kinds of plastics. It is increasingly getting acceptable in curbside recycling programmes. If in doubt check with your local recyclers.

PP5 Recycling logo Recycling contactlens blister

For US and Australian contact lens wearers Bausch and Lomb and TerraCycle run the One by One recycling programme, whereby you can send Bausch and Lomb any brand of contact lens blisters free of charge and they will recycle them for you.

Contact lens

Scientists are currently working on a soy-based biodegradable contact lens, but that technology is still a few years away. In the meantime, we are stuck with the silicone/hydrogel lenses, these are currently not recyclable.

In an effort to reduce plastic pollution, researchers in the US have been investigating the final journey made by disposable contact lenses. The study found that approximately 21 percent of contact lens wearers in the US dispose of their contact lenses down the sink or toilet.

Researchers tested 11 types of contact lenses and found that while some of the intact lenses are trapped by filters in sewage treatment plants, lenses can fragment into tiny particles which slip through the filters, and contribute to the microplastics already floating around in the world’s oceans.

Disposable contact lenses are currently not recyclable and should be disposed of in the general waste bin and not down the toilet or sink.

Can You Recycle Contact Lenses?

What Parts of Contact Lenses Can Be Recycled? 

Contact Lens PartsRecyclable  How To Recycle
Delivery Box✔️  Recycling bin
Outer box✔️  Recycling bin
Blister - Foil Lid  General waste
Blister - Plastic "cup"✔️  Recycling bin
Contact Lenses  General waste

What can you do to reduce contact lens waste?

It would think that if you swapped from daily contact lenses to two weekly or monthly lenses, you would reduce the amount of waste, however, when researchers at Johnson and Johnson looked at daily disposable contact lenses, which don't require cleaning, and monthly disposables, which are cleaned and stored at night requiring, solution bottles and storage cases they found that a pair of daily disposable contact lenses worn 365 days per year produces 1kg of waste annually, comparatively, reusable contact lenses plus care solutions produced 0.84kg of packaging waste yearly. So although you can reduce the amount of waste it's not as much as you would think.

Switching to glasses does not necessarily save the environment with some studies suggesting the raw material in a pair of glasses can be equivalent to 4 years worth of daily disposable lenses, however on average people wear glasses for over 2 years before replacing them. If you are looking at switching to glasses look out for environmentally friendly companies such as greeneyewear who use environmentally friendly acetates in their frames.

Can You Recycle Contact Lenses?

Practical ways to reduce the impact of your contact lenses on the environment

  • DO Recycle the cardboard - flatten boxes and place in recycle bin
  • DO Recycle the plastic - collect your plastic blisters in a jar in the bathroom ad recycle in your plastic recycle bin
  • DO Dispose of the foil lid in general waste
  • DO Dispose of contact lenses in the general waste
  • DON’T Dispose of old contact lenses down the toilet or drain

Can You Recycle Contact Lenses?

Author: John Dreyer Optometrist Bsc(Hons), MCOPTOM, DipCLP
Created: 3 Nov 2018, Last modified: 3 Jan 2023