Zero Waste Contact Lenses and Eyeglasses: How to Recycle Them

zero waste contact lenses and eyeglasses

I must admit, my eye sight is not the best. Ever since I was little I’ve needed glasses, and just a few years ago I switched over to contacts. Yes, I’m aware that contacts are very wasteful, but I personally prefer them (I like how I look in them better and how my vision improves with them). I still use glasses (only when I’m home or I’m in for the night), but I always wear contacts while I’m out and about. Up until one year ago, I hadn’t thought about the impact wearing glasses or contacts had on the environment. I was using one-a-day contacts you toss out after one single use (talk about wasteful). Then, after being enlightened by the zero waste movement, I found there were better options available. So yes, there is such a thing as zero waste contact lenses and eyeglasses. Here’s how you can avoid sending your contacts (and glasses) to a landfill by recycling them properly. It’s easier than you may think!


Zero Waste Contact lenses

zero waste contact lenses and eyeglasses

First, I’ll share how I live zero waste with contacts. For starters, the most sustainable option regarding contacts would be to switch over to two week or one month contacts. This will enable you to wear the contacts longer, before having to throw them out. Personally, I use two week right now and love it. At some point I’d like to try the one month contacts, but for now, two week works just fine.

Here’s what I do with the contacts when they’ve come to the end of their life:

  • I open a new blister pack, taking the new contacts out and plopping them into my eyes.
  • Then, I transfer the solution from the new blister pack I just opened into my little contact lens case. This keeps me from wasting any contact solution.
  • Next, I place my old contacts into the new pair of blister pack I just opened. Instead of tossing the contacts and blister pack away, I place these in a safe place – currently in a cardboard box. If you prefer, you can separate the contact lens from the blister packs and put them in their own little container (but I was lazy, so I didn’t). 
  • When I have enough (which is coming up soon), I intend on utilizing Terracycle’s free recycling program to ship over my used contact lens (and the blister packs). All I have to do is print out the shipping label they gave me, stick it on a box, and I’m good to go. You cannot recycle contact lenses with your regular recycling because they are often too small, so this Terracycle program is a blessing.
  • Terracycle partnered with Biotrue® ONEday and other Bausch + Lomb brands to make this recycling program possible. They will accept contact lenses and blister packs from all brands. My brand certainly isn’t from Biotrue ONEday or other Bausch + Lomb brands but I’m still sending mine in!

zero waste contact lenses and eyeglasses

All the blister packs and contact lenses I’m saving up for the free Terracycle program!

Notes on contact solution + contact packaging

  • Terracycle won’t accept cardboard boxes of any sort, so do what I do and just recycle (or compost) those through regular municipal recycling.
  • The Biotrue Bausch + Lomb multi purpose solution (AKA contact solution) isn’t accepted in this program either. Instead, you can just recycle it on your own. Biotrue Bausch + Lomb contact solution comes in a cardboard box which can be recycled or composted. The actual solution itself comes in a plastic bottle which I intend on recycling with my regular municipal recycling. There’s instructions in each box of solution too, which can also be composted or recycled because it’s paper. You’ll also notice a thin little piece of plastic wrapped around the plastic bottle of solution: You may be able to bring this to your local supermarket for recycling. Check and see if you have a thin plastic recycling drop off location near you. Turns out I have several near me I didn’t even know about (so yay!). You can find one near you by using Plastic Film Recycling’s handy search box (just type in your zip code).

zero waste contact lenses and eyeglasses

Here are my used blister packs I’m storing in a random cardboard box. Inside the packs are the used contact lenses. I plan to transfer them over to a new box (one without a little window) when it fills up more. 

And that’s it! Pretty easy, right? Moving on…


Zero Waste Eyeglasses

zero waste contact lenses and eyeglasses

Many people consider eyeglasses to be the more zero waste option when it comes to this topic. While I agree that glasses are definitely less wasteful than contact lenses, they’re far from perfect. Many people replace their glasses (either every year or over the course of several years) in search of a new frame. Or, they keep the frames and get a new prescription. What happens to the old frames and prescriptions? If you guessed landfill, you’re probably right. 

Here’s how to make sure your eyeglasses stay as zero waste as possible:

  • Keep them in great shape: You won’t be able to donate a pair of eyeglasses that have been crushed or broken. Keeping your eyeglasses in good condition really helps prolong their life too, serving you even longer. My eyeglass frames haven’t been replaced in years!
  • Hold on to old glasses. If you do have to change your frames (be it for style or out of necessity), choose to keep your old eyeglasses. You never know when you might need them. If you know you won’t need them, donate them right away.
  • Speaking of donating eyeglasses, see if there’s a local drop off center near you that collects old eyeglasses. You can even ask your eye doctor if they’d be willing to take your glasses for recycling. If not, there are some fantastic non-profits who will happily accept your old eyeglasses (assuming they are in good condition). You can send old eyeglasses to New Eyes and Lions Club International: Both will be more than happy to take them off your hands. Lions Club may even have a recycling drop off center near you (if not you can just donate by mail).

While I’m well aware these options aren’t completely perfect, they are the more sustainable routes. Sometimes, you have to get creative and work with what you’re given. Waste is bound to happen somewhere along the way, but you can greatly diminish it by making more sustainable, conscious choices.

zero waste contact lenses and eyeglasses

And that’s a wrap folks! What tips do you have to share about zero waste eye wear?

By Ariana Storniolo (Palmieri)

Ariana Storniolo is the founder of Greenify-Me, a blog dedicated to zero waste and sustainability. Her work has also been featured on Going Zero Waste, Green Matters, Mother Earth Living and several other online publications.


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