Millions of Americans wear contact lenses, but research suggests many people aren’t disposing of them properly. A recent study shows at least 21% of contact wearers flush contacts down the toilet or drop them down the sink drain.

Of the 14 billion contact lenses that get discarded every year, an estimated three billion are put into the sewage system via a toilet or sink.

A first-of-its-kind study, conducted by the Biodesign Center for Environmental Health Engineering at Arizona State University, looked at the damage flushed contacts have on the environment.

Bits of contacts end up in soil and waterways

Researchers surveyed the disposal habits of 409 contact wearers and explored the decomposition of contacts once they were flushed.

The research shows contacts typically linger in wastewater treatment systems for an estimated four to seven days. During that time, contacts don’t break down. As a result, contacts often make their way into runoff and are deposited in the soil or waterways.

Once the contacts are in the soil and waterways, they become part of the growing ‘microplastic epidemic.’ Microsplastics are small bits of plastic pollution, and research shows these microscopic pieces of debris are “absolutely everywhere.”

Researchers in the UK found microplastic contamination in every waterway they sampled, scientists in Colorado say it’s raining microplastics in the Rocky Mountains, and a team from the University of San Diego say there’s an alarming amount of plastic shards in the Santa Barbara Basin.

With microplastics blanketing both land and water, there’s reason to believe they will make it into the food supply.

Disposing of contacts properly

Contact wearers should stop throwing used contacts in the toilet or sink immediately. Instead, contacts can be disposed of in two ways.

The best way to dispose of contacts is to recycle them. They can’t be tossed into household recyclables, but several companies, including TerraCycle and Bausch and Lomb, have created a recycling program.

Contact wearers can drop off their expired contacts and the blister packs that contacts are stored in to a participating eye care office. Once delivered, the company will recycle the metal layers of the blister pack and melt the plastic from the packaging and the lenses into recycled plastic products.

For those who don’t recycle contacts, it’s best to put them in the garbage rather than down a drain.

Becoming part of the solution

Microplastics – and all plastic pollution – is a real concern. At some point, consumers have to become part of a solution. Making small changes like recycling contacts, taking reusable bags to the grocery store, and using a reusable water bottle are great choices, but they’re simply not enough.

However, there is a way to drastically cut down on the amount of plastic pollution with refill technology. Rather than purchasing goods that are in plastic containers, consumers can refill bottles again and again.

Imagine going to a store and refilling your laundry detergent, hand soap, and shampoo at a small kiosk rather than buying another set of bottles.

It’s possible. Refill technology exists. However, many merchants aren’t willing to install the refillable kiosks because they don’t believe consumers will use them.

It’s time to take action. Sign this petition to tell merchants you’re ready to cut plastic pollution by refilling your favorite products.