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The Why: Contact lenses clogging up our waterways

The fastest-growing part of the contact lens market is daily disposable lenses, which create a lot more waste. Researchers at Arizona State University found up to 20 percent of wearers toss the lenses into sinks and toilets instead of the garbage.

Contact Lenses are vital to the vision of around 45-million Americans, but recently they've been in the headlines because of all the waste they are contributing to our waterways.

So why have these tiny lenses become such a huge problem? It has to do with improper disposal of the product.

The fastest-growing part of the contact lens market is daily disposable lenses, which create a lot more waste. Researchers at Arizona State University found up to 20 percent of wearers toss the lenses into sinks and toilets instead of the garbage.

Because disposable lenses are made of durable plastic, they don't fully break down. To make things worse, after going through a sewage treatment plant the lenses break down into even smaller pieces, which can find their way into fish, birds or other animals.

Some simple math illustrates the seriousness of the problem. If you take the 14-billion contact lenses used in the U.S. every year, the study estimates that up to 50,000 pounds of plastic get flushed or otherwise go down the drain.

There is a bit of good news: A major lens maker, Bausch and Lomb, is seriously pursuing a contact lens recycling program. Since it began in November 2016, the company says the program has collected 2.5 million used lenses, amounting to about 7 tons of waste.