What I have learned
Recycling contact lens refuse
Co-founder and head of marketing of Valli Opticians, Rachel Valli (pictured below), and new patient, Rosalyn Raine, explain how a solution to recycling contact lens packaging was found
Why did you decide to introduce a contact lens recycling scheme?
Rachel Valli (RV): Social responsibility is very important to us as a company and helping to protect our environment is part of that. For years, contact lens wearers have struggled to find ways in which to dispose of the lenses ethically without resorting to sending them to landfill. Reducing plastic waste is high on the agenda and we’re really pleased that we’ve been able to find a way for people to recycle their contact lenses. Everyone is welcome to drop off their contact lens waste at one of our 14 practices across the north of England – you don’t have to be one of our patients.
What service does TerraCycle provide to Valli Opticians?
RV: We purchased Zero Waste Boxes from recycling company TerraCycle, which specialises in typically hard to recycle waste. When the boxes are full, Valli Opticians sends them back to TerraCycle who separate and then recycle the different materials which are then used to create new products such as durable outdoor furniture. I’d heard about a similar scheme in the US but couldn’t find any such schemes here in the UK, so I contacted TerraCycle and it started from there.
Had many patients requested this type of service?
RV: I saw a message online on a local community forum from someone who was asking about how they could recycle their contact lens waste. That’s what got me to thinking that we could help with this. I was surprised to find out that there simply weren’t any contact lens recycling schemes in the UK and so it was something that we quickly put right.
What were your frustrations with trying to recycle contact lens materials?
RV: Contact lenses, top foil and blister packs are a mix of complex materials which cannot be recycled by the mainstream UK council kerbside infrastructure.
What impact on recycling rates, or the environment do you expect the scheme to have?
RV: As this is the first such scheme to be launched in the UK it’s bound to have an impact on the amount of contact lens waste that is recycled. We are giving contact lens wearers the opportunity to recycle their contact lens waste in the areas where we have our practices and we are hopeful that, through our lobbying of suppliers, that a wider and hopefully nationwide recycling solution might become a reality.
"Social responsibility is very important to us as a company and helping to protect our environment is part of that"
How have you made patients aware of the scheme and what key points are you highlighting to them?
RV: We’ve promoted the scheme heavily on our social media sites – Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter – as well as writing blogs about it. The scheme has also featured in the local press and optical media.
Unless you wear contact lenses, the problems with being able to recycle them was probably not something that most people were aware of. There’s a real focus on reducing the amount of plastic that is polluting our planet and rightly so. Campaigns and the Blue Planet programme have helped to bring the problem into the spotlight.
What has the feedback been from patients?
RV: The feedback has been excellent, I think people are genuinely pleased that they now have an opportunity to send their contact lens waste for recycling. And we have been very clear from the beginning that the scheme is open to everyone to come and drop in their contact lens waste, not just our own patients.
How are you looking to move the scheme forward?
RV: We are actively lobbying suppliers to work with us so that the scheme can be rolled out to a wider audience. We want the scheme to become nationwide so that as many of the UK’s contact lens wearers as possible have access to it.
What tips would you offer other practitioners who are looking to introduce a similar scheme?
RV: I think it’s really important that the schemes are open to everyone and not just the patients of a particular practice. If you can make a difference, be it enhancing your local communities or, as in this case, helping to protect our environment, then I believe businesses have a social responsibility to act.
How aware were you of the problem with recycling contact lens materials?
Rosalyn Raine (RR): I’d always thought I was a ‘good recycler’, tearing off the foil top from the contact lens plastic packaging and putting it all in my green recycling bin. In January, I was challenged to do a plastic free week, which started what turned out to be a very exciting plastic free journey. That was when I found out that due to the small size of the plastic lens packaging it is highly likely to be filtered out at most recycling plants.
I considered swapping from daily to monthly lenses and would have been willing to move from what I find a very comfortable and convenient choice to a monthly. However, the swap in terms of plastic didn’t seem to be a good swap. Monthlies would have given me a more robust lens packaging and plastic bottle per month, and couldn’t guarantee that these would be recycled due to the complex nature of plastic packaging. I decided to keep all my contact lens materials until I found a recycling scheme.
How did you hear about Valli Opticians contact lens recycling scheme?
RR: As soon as Valli Opticians posted on Facebook that they had a recycling scheme I made an appointment to go, everyone in the shop I went into knew about the scheme, there is a sign on the door and – piece de resistance – my three months of saved up contact lenses were the first to be dropped in for recycling in their Honley branch.
Do you think patients like you are becoming more aware of the impact everyday items, like contact lenses, can have on the environment?
RR: Recent TV and press coverage of the problems with plastic waste and the move to ban plastic straws is getting the message into everyone’s conscience, but manufacturers and retailers need to make it easier for consumers to make ‘good swaps.’ Valli’s recycling scheme does just this.
Why is it important that businesses take on similar recycling schemes?
RR: It’s massively important that retailers help consumers by making recycling schemes and easy swaps to more environmentally friendly alternatives convenient. Despite best intentions, it has to be easy and convenient for people to make changes in the consumer behaviour.
How often do you use the Valli Opticians recycling scheme?
RR: I saved my lens packaging from 8 January 2018 when my plastic free week started and dropped it off at Valli when they started their scheme. As they aren’t a bulky item it is no problem to just save them up for a few months and drop them in when I am working near one of Valli’s shops.
Were you a Valli Opticians patient before you heard about the scheme?
RR: I wasn’t a Valli Opticians patient before. When I did my plastic free week and realised that putting lens packaging in the green bin for recycling wasn’t a definite way of them being recycled, I contacted my online provider and some major High Street providers to find out if any of them had a recycling scheme. I decided that I would move to a provider with a scheme, so was delighted when Valli, who have several shops near my home town of Holmfirth, were the first to provide it.