Scott Hollifield: A new what not to flush down the toilet

As a former child, onetime college student and eventually the father of my very own former child and onetime college student, I know first-hand about what not to flush down a toilet. The list includes tennis balls, mini liquor bottles and Barbie heads.

Now, science has given us a new no-no: Old contact lenses.

While they certainly aren’t likely to cause the immediate undesirable effects of the aforementioned items, contact lenses spinning around the bowl and disappearing down the drain have an environmental impact, according to Arizona State University scientists who conducted the first known study into contact lens pollution.

“ I had worn glasses and contact lenses for most of my adult life,” said Rolf Halden, director of the Biodesign Institutes Center for Environmental Health Engineering at ASU, in an article by Joe Caspermeyer. “But I started to wonder, has anyone done research on what happens to these plastic lenses after their useful lifespan is over?”

That’s the same kind of question I ask myself when I spring awake at 4 a.m. and stare at the ceiling. It’s usually that or, “What have I done with my life?”

Existential inquiries aside, researchers found that approximately 45 million Americans spend about $2.7 billion a year on contact lenses and 15 to 20 percent of these near/farsighted folks flush their old ones down the toilet, meaning 1.8-3.36 billion go down the drain, accounting for up to 23 metric tons of waste-water borne plastics each year.

So, why is that a big deal?

According to researchers, wastewater treatment plants fragment the lenses into microplastics, which enter the ecosystem. The potential adverse impact is “poorly understood,” according to the story. Additionally, microplastics can enter the food chain, eventually (and this last part is scientific speculation but essential to the plot of the Syfy channel movie I plan to write and produce) creating giant two-headed zombie sharks with an insatiable appetite for human flesh.

Yes, flushing your old contact lenses is just that bad.

So what is the (saline) solution to this environmental problem?

“ A simple step would be for manufacturers to provide on product packaging, information on how to properly dispose of contact lenses, which is simply by placing them in the trash with other solid waste,” Halden said in the story. “A desirable long-term outcome would be to create lenses from polymers that are fine-tuned to be inert during use but labile and degradable when escaping into the environment.”

To do my part to keep two-headed zombie sharks with an insatiable appetite for human flesh from becoming a reality, I’ve created the following product package information that makers of contact lenses are free to use, following my standard licensing fee of $635,000, which I hope to use to finance my shark movie:

IMPORTANT CONSUMER INFORMATION: When time to dispose of this contact lens product, we the manufacturers recommend depositing them in the trash with other solid waste material and not flushing them down the toilet, as you would a tennis ball, mini liquor bottle or Barbie head if you were a mischievous child or drunken college student. Seriously, people, don’t do it. Many of the world’s leading scientists agree that flushing contact lenses is the first step to unleashing two-headed zombie sharks with an insatiable appetite for human flesh upon the world, which would be a terrific plot for a movie, but bad in reality. And if we hear that you continue to flush your contact lenses down the toilet despite this warning, we’re going to send a couple of guys from shipping – Vito and Big Willie – to your house to have a little “talk” with you about being a more environmentally conscious citizen. No, four-eyes, that isn’t a threat, it’s a promise. Thank you choosing – and never flushing -- Acme Contact Lenses.

Scott Hollifield is editor of The McDowell News in Marion, NC and a humor columnist. Contact him at rhollifield@mcdowellnews.com.

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