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Friday October 19, 2018

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Plastic pollution

According to the American Chemical Society, the bad habits of contact-lens wearers could be damaging the environment, lenses flushed down the drain enter our waterways and can break into microplastics that pollute the ocean and harm wildlife, and may even ultimately enter the food chain.

They found 15-20% of US users simply flick these fiddly lenses down the drain via the bathroom sink or toilet. The Arizona State University study suggests that much of the plastic material then ends up in waste water treatment plants. The lenses are consequently spread on farmland as sewage sludge, increasing plastic pollution in the environment.

Around 45m people wear contacts in the US, while rates in other countries vary, with between 5 and 15% of the population in Europe using them. Over the last decade, the use of softer plastic contact lenses has grown rapidly with people using daily, weekly or monthly disposables in greater numbers than ever before.

Surveying more than 400 contact-lens wearers in Arizona, researchers found that between 15 to 20 percent of them typically flushed their contact lenses down the sink or toilet. In the United States alone, there are roughly 45 million contact-lens wearers, and companies are increasingly marketing single-use contact lenses as the best option. That means up to 11 extra tons of plastic ending up in wastewater treatment plants in the United States per year as a result.

If earthworms consume the soil and birds feed on it, then you could see that plastic make the same journey as is done by plastics debris in oceans, they are incorporated by biota that are also part of the human food chain.

Contact lenses are often made from a mixture of acrylic glass, silicones and fluoropolymers that allows manufacturers to create a softer plastic material which permits oxygen to pass through to the eye.

The researchers are concerned that this poses an ecological risk and may allow the accumulation of persistent toxic pollutants in vulnerable organisms such as worms and birds. Lenses should be recycled where this is possible, but if not they should be disposed of by putting them in with other solid, non-recyclable waste.

 

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