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HomemilensesTransforming Contact Lens Wear Into a Sustainable Choice

Transforming Contact Lens Wear Into a Sustainable Choice

Figure 1. The top five environmental concerns.8

Interest in the impact of consumer goods, including medical devices such as contact lenses, and how to make sustainable choices is growing among the public and eye care professionals (ECPs) alike.

As CooperVision’s Karen Walsh and Dr Paul Riggs write, ECPs have a crucial role to play in engaging their patients on how they can help reduce the environmental impact of their contact lens wear.

The last century has seen many milestones in the evolution of the contact lens. From the transition from glass to plastic lenses, to the invention of the corneal lens in 1948, through to the introduction of soft hydrogel lenses in 1971,1 the evolution of the contact lens into its modern design has allowed for greater comfort and safety.2 Currently, 76% of all soft contact lenses fitted use silicone hydrogel materials, with 48% of patients being prescribed daily disposables, although there is wide variation by country.3

The introduction of daily disposable contact lenses in 1995 was a pivotal milestone, offering wearers greater convenience.1 Wearers could discard their lenses after one day of wear rather than cleaning and storing them. There has been a steady increase in daily disposable fitting rates in many markets,3 and by 2021, daily disposables had a global market revenue share of 57% in an industry valued at $10 billion.4 The continued growth of the contact lens market, especially daily disposables,5 is contributing to their environmental impact. This is largely due to the increasing volume of lenses and related packaging being discarded every day.6

High-grade plastic polymers are essential in the manufacture of contact lenses and their packaging, but their disposability may be seen by the public as an environmental concern.6 This reflects the gradual, yet seismic shift in the purchasing behaviour of modern consumers as the issues of climate change, pollution and environmental degradation become more prominent.7,8 This shift means that all elements related to contact lens manufacture, use and end-of-life planning must continue to evolve.

Adaptations in the manufacture, packaging and delivery of daily disposable lenses can make a significant contribution to their environmental impact. In this regard, CooperVision is at the forefront, rising to meet the demand for sustainable contact lens wear. Over the past decade, it has made significant changes to the manufacture, packaging, and delivery of its contact lenses. In 2022 its daily disposable contact lens brands in sphere, toric, and multifocal for clariti 1 day and MyDay, became net plastic neutral in many markets globally, thanks to its partnership with Plastic Bank.9 **¥

DEMAND FOR SUSTAINABLE CHOICES

With sustainability now a key consideration for many consumers, behaviours and purchasing habits are changing. Recent consumer surveys highlight plastic waste as the top environmental concern of consumers (Figure 1).8

The Global Sustainability survey in 2021 found that sustainability was rated as an important purchase criterion for 60% of consumers,10 while another survey in the UK found that 87% of consumers want brands to act now to encourage future sustainability.11 This trend is even more prominent in Gen Z and Millennials who are the most likely groups to make purchase decisions based on values and principles (personal, social, and environmental) rather than price point alone.12 With this demographic set to shape the marketplace over the next half century, now is the time for sustainability to be instilled into business practice.

Governments are also prioritising the sustainable use of plastic, setting ambitious targets for the marketplace. By 2030, the European Union (EU) is aiming for cost effective reuse or recycling of new plastic packaging,13 while the UN aims to reduce global carbon dioxide emissions by 45% by 2030, on the road to net zero by 2050.14 What do contact lens wearers, in particular, have to say about sustainability? A 2021 survey of contact lens wearers found that 82% agreed that collecting waste for responsible recycling is important to them, with 86% of wearers also agreeing that keeping plastic out of the oceans is important to them.15 Both concerns form a part of CooperVision’s sustainability plan.

DAILY DISPOSABLES CAN BE A SUSTAINABLE CHOICE

Contact lenses, like many other plastic medical devices, have come under the spotlight for their potential environmental impact.6 End users are increasingly aware of the need for packaging and product recycling or disposal, with considerations given to the contact lens carton, blister pack, solution bottle and case for monthly lenses, and the lens itself. Many of these elements can be recycled locally and when calculated, the percentage contribution to household waste is very small, representing just 0.20–0.26% of the 412kg of household waste generated per person per year.6 Furthermore, annual waste from full-time daily disposable contact lens wear generates just 130g16 to 230g6 more per year than that generated by reusable monthly replacement daily wear with its additional use of materials for the lens case and care solution packaging.

While manufacturers have ensured contact lenses and their packaging are, in many cases, 100% recyclable, the municipal facilities to process these materials often do not exist, or consumers are unsure of how to recycle the products.6 In response to this, specialist recycling schemes for daily disposable contact lenses and their packaging are emerging in some markets, usually via optometry practices.6

IN PRACTICE TODAY

ECPs have a crucial role to play in engaging their patients on how they can help reduce the environmental impact of their contact lens wear.6 For example, contact lenses should not be discarded by flushing them down the toilet.

ECPs can also help by educating patients about sustainable practices in the contact lens industry along with supporting them with making choices which can help the overall movement toward a green, sustainable future (Figure 2).

On a daily basis, ECPs are well placed to advise about best practices for managing the end products of their current contact lenses once used. This could include providing advice on local recycling schemes for the contact lens carton/box, the plastic blister, and foil top, along with the options for recycling any lens care bottles, cases, and collection of the contact lenses themselves.

The demand for sustainable choices presents ECPs with the chance to help effect positive change. By educating patients on the environmental impact of contact lenses and encouraging them to seek out sustainable brands, ECPs can help nudge the wider industry into going green, along with helping their patients meet their own expectations around making environmentally sound choices.

Figure 2. Advice for ECPs to pass on to contact lens wearers in practice today

Karen Walsh MCOptom PGDip FAAO FIACLE FBCLA is the Director, Global Professional Affairs 1 Day and FRP at CooperVision. She is an experienced peer educator with a key focus on taking evidence-based science into the consulting room to improve eye care practitioner and patient experience.

Dr Paul Riggs BSc MSc PhD is Science and Sustainability Director at CooperVision, with responsibility for leading the development and delivery of CooperVision operations strategies for sustainability and scientific disciplines.

** Net plastic neutrality is established by purchasing credits from Plastic Bank. A credit represents the collection and conversion of one kilogram of plastic that may reach or be destined for waterway. CooperVision purchases credits equal to the weight of plastic in participating brand orders in a specified time period. Plastic in participating brand orders is determined by the weight of plastic in the blister, the lens, and the secondary package, including laminates, adhesives, and auxiliary inputs (e.g. ink).

¥ clariti 1 day, MyDay daily disposable, Biofinity and MiSight 1 day orders includes products sold and distributed by CooperVision in participating countries.

This article is a modified version of an article ‘Going green: How CooperVision is leading the way in transforming contact lens wear into a sustainable choice, published in Optician in the United Kingdom.

References

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  3. Morgan, P., et al., International Contact Lens Prescribing in 2022. Contact Lens Spectrum. 2023; 38: 28–35.
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  16. Routhier, J. et al., Daily disposable versus reusable contact lenses: a close match when it comes to the impact on the environment. CLAE. 2012; e1–e32.