By Gina M. Wesley, OD, MS, FAAO
Sept. 26, 2018
One of the most common products we prescribe for our patients, contact lenses, can have an adverse impact on the environment. Here are the steps my practice has taken to become more environmentally responsible, and how these improvements benefit both my patients and practice.
Can You Recycle Contact Lenses?
I first became aware of environmental concerns through my relationship with Bausch + Lomb. As an active fitter of primarily daily disposable lenses in my practice (currently at 90 percent of all lenses fit), I had heard for years from a small number of patients about concern for the waste their contacts were creating. An incorrect assumption on my part, which many others share, is that you can recycle contact lenses and their packaging in “regular” recycling.
When bringing this assumption up to my connections at Bausch + Lomb through advisory work, I was corrected and found that contact lenses, and the packaging they come in, are too small to be recycled. They just get filtered out of larger plastics sorting. Thankfully, though, a few years ago, Bausch + Lomb launched a partnership, the One-by-One Recycling Program, with TerraCycle, a specialty recycling company that works on “recycling the un-recyclable.” Contact lens waste from products of any brand, not just Bausch + Lomb, will be recycled.
For every qualifying recycling shipment of two pounds, or more, Bausch + Lomb will donate $1 per pound donation to Optometry Giving Sight, a non-profit organization that works internationally to prevent blindness and impaired vision.
We have several bins located throughout the office, and fill these with our own blister packaging and lenses that are used during the fitting process here in our office with all contact lens wearers, new and established.
Patients are encouraged to bring in their lenses, any time, to dispose of them. We have a sign out in our front vestibule that invites the person who fills up the bin to come in for a reward, as we want to celebrate their efforts to recycle. We also direct patients to the Bausch + Lomb recycling web site, so they can print out their own shipping labels to ship from home, if more efficient.
Let Patients Know of Your Environmental Efforts
My patients and staff have embraced, and love, this program. We have the boxes all over the practice for patients to see, plus signage and handouts. The program is easily explained by any doctor or staff member, and we are now always ready to educate patients about the program. This is especially useful when a patient does express concern about waste.
I find the most beneficial time to discuss the program is when the patient is inserting their lenses during an exam, and when looking for where to dispose of the blister package. I point out our special bin that has the One-by-One signage on it. I explain to the patient that this is a special recycling program for any contact lens and its packaging, not just Bausch + Lomb lenses, and for every pound recycled, Bausch + Lomb donates to Optometry Giving Sight. This resonates with many patients, because they know they are not only doing well by the environment; they are helping those who need eyecare in under-served areas of the world.
It only takes 15 seconds to briefly tell patients about this program, and it’s worth every second. If you can’t even sacrifice those seconds, handing out information regarding the One-by-One program with each lens purchase is an even more efficient way to make patients aware. You can also provide information on your office’s web site, or in-office material.
It took me about five minutes to explain the program to my staff, and how it worked. Looking at the web site answered most of their other questions.
Make Contact-Lens Environmental Responsibility Part of Larger Effort
We already do more recycling at my office than disposing of regular trash, so embracing this program was an easy next step in our environmentally friendly office. The other key environmental improvement we made is becoming less dependent on printing paper. We’ve had electronic medical records for the last 10 years, but I’m still constantly challenging staff about why anything needs to be printed out, and making sure forms can be digitized.
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