Don't throw those contact lenses down the drain

Jennifer Chae a beauty blogger from Kansas City shows off an Asian style circle lens on the tip of her finger in Overland Park Kan

"We found that 15 to 20 percent of contact-lens wearers are flushing the lenses down the sink or toilet", Charles Rolsky, a PHD student involved in the study, explains.

The authors of the study surveyed wearers in the U.S. and found that 15-20% of them flick their lenses down sinks and toilets, meaning they will most likely end up in waste water treatment plants.

A study estimates that between six and ten tonnes of plastic lenses end up in wastewater in the United States alone each year.

The team sifted through wastewater sludge, and found several fragments of contact lenses, which indicated that wastewater processing doesn't just let the lenses through - it also appears to help them break into smaller bits.

Some scientists at Arizona State University asked that question and found that a lot of them are going down the sink or getting flushed down the toilet - adding to the problem of microplastic pollution. Well, now contact lens manufacturers don't include any information on the packaging about how to dispose of the used product. The study estimated that about 45 million people wear contact lenses in the U.S. alone.

Microplastics are bits of plastic that have been worn down into tiny pieces that are smaller than 5 millimeters. "Definitely throw them in the solid waste compartment of the house-the garbage can is preferable to the sink or the toilet", Rolsky says.

The Arizona State University study suggests that much of the plastic material then ends up in waste water treatment plants.

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. So it is unclear how wastewater treatment affects them.

Don't throw those contact lenses down the drain
Don't throw those contact lenses down the drain

The microplastics formed by contact lenses could also be making a mark on land.

He added: 'This is a pretty large number, considering roughly 45 million people in the U.S. alone wear contact lenses'.

Mr Kelkar said: 'When the plastic loses some of its structural strength, it will break down physically.

The problem with these microplastics is that aquatic organisms tend to mistake them for food, even though they are completely indigestible.

Now a research team based in the USA has shown for the first time how they can get eaten by fish and other marine life and be returned to us on our plates. When these microplastics persist in the environment they can be consumed by animals, birds or insects and make their way into the food chain.

Some eventually find their way to the food supply, which could lead to people being exposed to plastic contaminants and pollutants that stick to the surfaces. "This leads to smaller plastic particles which would ultimately lead to the formation of microplastics".

The study was presented at the meeting but has not been published or peer-reviewed, which are considered a gold standard in medical and scientific research.

Rolf Halden, director of the Biodesign Center, pointed out that contacts are only a small portion of the plastic waste that ends up in the ocean, and are arguably more important to people than other disposable items like plastic bags or straws.

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