Concern over the environment causes us, on a daily basis, to question how we live. We no longer make choices based simply on economics or taste, on fashion or fad, or what is practical. We now consider how we might affect the planet. We question the cars we drive, the products we support and the food we eat. We describe our impact on the environment as our carbon footprint.
Our carbon footprint, it seems, extends even to corrective lenses. In the choice between eyeglasses or contacts, which one affects the planet the least? It’s simple, surely. Contact lenses are disposable, we continually replace them with new ones and every time we buy them, they come with their associated blister packs, cardboard, instruction leaflets, storage cases and plastic bottles of solution. It is an endless cycle of production and disposal. That must be worse than those sturdy long-lasting eyeglasses. We keep our eyeglasses for years and there’s not a blister pack to be seen.
On the other hand, contact lenses are tiny. There’s hardly any plastic in there at all. According to a consulting group based at the University of Manchester, a year’s worth of daily disposable contact lenses accounts for just over 9 grams of plastic, compared to over 35 grams in a pair of eyeglass lenses. As eyeglasses are not generally kept for ever, but are replaced on average about every 2.5 years, contact lenses start to look good, even the ones that are replaced on a daily basis.
Of course, the amount of plastic in the final product isn’t the only way of coming to a decision. Blank eyeglass lenses start out with 4 times the plastic of the final shaped product. A whole pile of plastic is left on the cutting room floor and it’s all carbon for that footprint. There’s also more hidden carbon emissions in the transport costs of eyeglass frames which tend to come from China. The frames are often plastic too, and all this plastic comes from petroleum, and that’s another thing for the eco-conscious to worry about.
In the final summation, it seems that the answer to the question is not so clear cut. While disposable contact lenses involve constant production and renewal, the lenses themselves are so insignificant compared to eyeglasses that this hardly seems to matter. With improvements in manufacturing techniques and environmentally conscious practices, it is likely that the contact lens will ultimately be the most eco-friendly choice, by virtue of the fact that the whole system (lenses, care products, packaging, disposal) has so many parts. There is more freedom for improvement in a multi-faceted operation and a greater chance to cut those carbon emissions somewhere along the line.
Brett Oliveira works with BuyMoreContacts.com, where you can order contact lenses online at discount prices. BuyMoreContacts.com offers a variety of contact lenses, including lenses such as Avaira and Acuvue Advance contact lenses.