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Contact lenses have been used for decades to correct vision, and over 150 million people use contact lenses today. The materials used to make contact lenses have evolved drastically, but ultimately resulted in a specific plastic, silicone-derived hydrogel, which provides maximal comfort and clear vision, while also maintaining the eye health of the user. Contact lenses have enhanced the lives of many people, but a topic that is often left out of contact lens discussions is that of plastic waste. Single-use plastic and increased plastic pollution have recently been areas of concern and expanded research. Contact lenses are often forgotten when analyzing personal plastic use, likely due to their small size and therefore low contribution to a person’s overall plastic waste. However, a recent survey revealed that some contact lens users still flush their used contact lenses down the drain, putting them directly into the water system. These small pieces of plastic can then break down further into microplastic, contaminating the water system and potentially harming wildlife and humans. Some contact lens manufacturers have initiated recycling programs specifically for contact lenses or have developed similar initiatives to address the issue of contact lens waste. Moving forward, eye care professionals must educate contact lens wearers on their disposal options, and contact lens manufacturers must continue to search for ways to decrease the impacts of plastic they create.

Course: HON489: Senior Project: Honors Research

Publication Date


Document Type



contact lens, recycling, plastic


Biology | Optometry


Presented at the Fall 2021 Virtual UNDergraduate Showcase, Grand Forks, ND, December 9, 2021.

Environmental Impacts of Contact Lens Waste