Build your practice and protect the planet

April 19, 2023
Every day is Earth Day at these optometric practices. Celebrate Earth Week with considerations for an environmentally friendly practice.
Earth Day 2023 Graphic

Excerpted from page 22 of the March/April 2023 edition of AOA Focus

Doctors of optometry are doing their part in the name of sustainability to reduce, reuse and recycle the byproducts associated with delivering quality care to their patients—and those patients are responding positively to their efforts to protect the environment.

In fact, doctors say, patients favor daily disposable contact lenses after learning that their doctor’s office recycles all or parts of the containers and lenses. It’s certainly a better alternative to tossing used blister packs.

“Some patients were really hesitant to wear daily disposables because they were concerned about their carbon footprint,” says Ashley Tucker, O.D., director of The Contact Lens Institute of Houston, an extension of Bellaire Family Eye Center, which started recycling under the Bausch + Lomb ONE by ONE Free Recycling Program. “It convinced a lot of patients that daily wear contact lenses were healthier for the eyes and better for the environment.”

Says Melissa Barnett, O.D., principal optometrist at UC Davis Health and immediate past president of the AOA Contact Lens & Cornea Section: “There is a growing awareness of recycling in eye care and the greater community. As a modern society, we care for our planet more than ever before. We know that plastic is everywhere—from water bottles, cans, toys, packaging, clothing, food utensils and straws to contact lenses, lens solution bottles and contact lens cases.”

Four doctors share considerations for an environmentally friendly practice.

1. Take advantage of a recycling program

About five years ago, Erin McCleary, O.D., joined the Bausch + Lomb ONE by ONE Free Recycling Program, the first contact lens and eye care recycling program in the U.S., because it seemed like a “no brainer.”

Launched in 2016, the program is free and is not limited to Bausch + Lomb products.

“I wanted to help protect the environment,” she says, “and here was a company that wants to help me take one thing and turn it into another thing.”

Katie Greiner, O.D., M.S., M.B.A., chief executive officer at Northeast Ohio Eye Surgeons, was attracted to CooperVision’s net plastic neutral initiative, in collaboration with Plastic Bank. For every box of its designated lenses distributed in the U.S., the company promises to fund the collection, processing and reuse of an equivalent weight of recycled plastic. “We put the recycling boxes in all our locations,” says Dr. Greiner, noting that staff enthusiastically support the effort.

The doctors describe the simplicity of recycling contact lenses. “We were initially provided with a medium-sized box (with B + L/TerraCycle marketing on it) that has a removable lid,” Dr. McCleary says. “Once the box gets full, we go to B + L’s website and print off a prepaid shipping label and then repackage the material into a different, nonbranded box.”

Lenses are mailed to TerraCycle.

“It’s so seamless,” Dr. Tucker says. All brands of contact lens and their containers are accepted.

2. Build your practice

There are lots of practice byproducts that can be recycled—paper, cardboard boxes, contact lens solution containers, cases, cans and plastic bottles, for instance. But it can take a lot of small blister packs to consistently fill those recycling containers, no matter how many fittings doctors of optometry do annually. The recycling bins will fill up faster if patients are engaged.

The doctors say they mention their recycling programs often when fitting patients for the first time or when they come in for an annual eye exam. Practices use social media and educational materials to tell/remind their patients about their recycling efforts.

“I recommend giving a key staff person several talking points on the benefits of recycling,” Dr. Barnett says. “Share the recycling boxes with patients, which will help grow your practice. Educational materials in the waiting area or examination room also can be helpful.”

3. Appeal to patients

“I love how patients’ faces light up when I tell them how we can recycle their contact lenses and they are repurposed,” Dr. McCleary says. “The program has especially captured the attention of young patients. For doctors who own their practices and are trying to grow their patient base, this is just one more small way to connect with young adults who have good ocular health and don’t necessarily make time for their eye doctors. The late-teens to 20-something patient base often comprises our biggest contact lens population, and they like the idea of helping contribute to ‘a cause’ at a time when many of this patient demographic are putting their dollars into online sales and nontraditional ophthalmic sales platforms. This program is another thing that can endear them to the independent doctor of optometry and keep them coming back through our doors.” 

Doctors say plastics from practices are recycled into signal lights, battery cables, brooms, brushes, auto battery cases, ice scrapers, landscape borders, bicycle racks, rakes, bins, pallets, trays and even park benches.

Dr. Greiner says the word has gotten around in her community that the practice is environmentally friendly. “Patients come in asking about it, even before we tell them about it,” she says.

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