Why You Should Never Flush Your Contacts Down the Drain

iStock
iStock

When a pair of contact lenses reach the end of their short life span, it may be tempting to dump them—and the liquid they’re stored in—down the bathroom sink drain. As The Atlantic points out, though, this is bad for the environment.

However small and thin they may be, contact lenses can contribute to microplastic pollution in waterways when they’re not disposed of properly, according to a new study presented at the recent American Chemical Society national meeting in Boston. The study surveyed contact lens users and non-users, and found that 19 percent of users flush the lenses down the toilet or sink drain instead of placing them in the trash. That translates to about 3 billion contact lenses per year, Rolf Halden, a researcher at Arizona State University and one of the study's authors, told The Atlantic.

Halden said he was inspired to look into the issue out of personal interest—he, too, wears contact lenses—and because he couldn’t find any studies on what happens to lenses after they’re flushed down the drain. Halden and his team discovered that the lenses end up in wastewater, where they can sink to the bottom because they are denser than water. There, they could endanger aquatic life, especially bottom feeders that may ingest the particles.

Researchers also found that microbes in wastewater treatment plant systems can degrade the structure of the lenses themselves and break them into tinier pieces. In the larger environment, those bits could be consumed by every organism in the local food chain. In addition, some of the flushed lenses are turned into a treated sewage sludge that is ultimately used to fertilize crops, so the waste could end up in our soil and affect creatures like earthworms. The extent to which this affects humans' food supply is not currently known.

"Ultimately, we hope that manufacturers will conduct more research on how the lenses impact aquatic life and how fast the lenses degrade in a marine environment,” Halden says in a statement.

So the next time you’re done using your contact lenses, think of the fish and worms, and throw them in the trash instead.

[h/t The Atlantic]

These Grass Straws Are an Eco-Friendly Alternative to Plastic

Kickstarter
Kickstarter

We know plastic straws have created an incredibly serious environmental issue, and while many alternatives have been introduced, there are definitely some drawbacks to each of them. Paper straws, for example, tend to dissolve faster than you can finish your beverage. Some companies have tried to get around the issues paper and plastic straws present by introducing a special lid to sip cold beverages through. But they’re still made out of, well, plastic.

A Kickstarter campaign is offering a solution by producing sturdy grass straws that work perfectly in hot or cold drinks and decompose in just 15 days. With $3606 raised, the startup La Couleur Monochrome is still working toward a $27,877 goal, but you can back this project until January 31. For as little as $6, you can receive 100 straws in a reusable, eco-friendly zip-up bag, and the more expensive tiers offer bigger rewards.

The straws are made from hollow-stemmed grass that is grown and hand-harvested in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam. After the grass is harvested, it is cut into 20-centimeter pieces and disinfected through a boiling process, rather than with harsh chemicals. Buyers have the option of selecting either dried-out straws, which can last for up to one year when stored at room temperature, or fresh straws, which can remain in the fridge for up to six weeks. According to the startup, both straws are suited for hot and cold drinks, but when using the fresh straws, you’ll get “a slight scent of fresh cut grass without changing the drink's taste.”

Grass straws
Kickstarter

If you’re worried about the environmental impact of harvesting the field, there’s no need. According to the campaign, the grass regenerates itself within a year. Currently, the startup is producing 1 million straws a month, but they hope to up it to 10 million by July 2020. Also beginning in July, the company plans to only send out orders once a month to create a more sustainable shipping program.

With so many large-scale changes that need to happen to help the environment, starting with a simple straw may seem inconsequential, but it’s not. Estimates have put the number of straws littering the world's coastlines at anywhere from 437 million to 8.3 billion.

If you want to visualize how much plastic humans have produced, it's equivalent to 25,000 Empire State Buildings or 80 million blue whales. And of all that plastic, only 9 percent has been recycled. At this pace, some have predicted that the amount of plastic in the ocean may outweigh the ocean's fish by 2050.

Cutting out straws is a great way to start reducing single-use products in your everyday life, and you can head here to find out more about the Kickstarter.

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Afternoon Map: The Most Endangered Plant in Each State

American globeflower
American globeflower
Chelmicky, iStock via Getty Images

Conversations about the groups most threatened by human development and climate change usually focus on animals, but plants may be even more vulnerable. An analysis from last year estimates the number of plants that have disappeared since 1750 is double than that of all birds, mammals, and amphibians combined. Plants are a vital part of the food chain, and as more of them go extinct, it could have catastrophic ripple effects across ecosystems.

To draw attention to this issue, the online loan provider NetCredit has illustrated a map of the most endangered plant species in each state. To create the map, they looked at data from the United States Department of Agriculture and found species that were either endangered or threatened on the federal or state level. From there, they selected plants that were unique-looking, had an interesting history, or had a limited range.

The result is a colorful graphic that demonstrates the diversity of threatened species in the plant kingdom. The map includes colorful flowers, like the dragon's mouth of Rhode Island and the American globeflower of Ohio. Other plants look more aggressive like the Nichol's Echinocactus that's under threat in Arizona. Two carnivorous pitcher plants make the list: the Jones's pitcher plant in North Carolina and the canebrake pitcher plant in Alabama.

You can view the full illustrated map below. To see which endangered animal is native to your state, check out this tool.

Map of most endangered plant species in each state.
NetCredit

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