Product: Single Use Daily Contact Lenses (made out of silicone hydrogels)
What is the source or origin for each of the components?
Silicone hydrogel: extracted from high oxygen permeable poly(dimethyl siloxane) (PDMS)-based macromers combined with various hydrophilic monomers to improve the rubbery characteristic and to increase the surface hydrophilicity of silicone. A common way of manufacturing hydrogels is when hydrophilic monomers react with cross-linkers through copolymerization. Other ways include combining crude oil with carbon.
Plastics for packaging: Number 5 polypropylene plastic packaging
utility and purification area (raw material: petroleum refinery or ethylene unit where propylene is a byproduct)→ reaction area (polymer created) → pelleting area → packaging area
sent to contact production facility for use in casing
Most polypropylene produced in China, other parts of Asia, Europe, North America
LyondellBasell is world’s largest producer of PP resins and compounds (Houston, which is at least in the US, so that’s cool)
Aluminum foil for packaging
Saline solution: made using NaCl and H2O
Where is it manufactured? Where was it packaged? Where did you buy it? Calculate the distances between each if possible.
Saline is made domestically in the US, most likely by one of these domestic producers: Baxter International, B. Braun Medical, and ICU Medical.
Contact lenses are transported by plane or truck which use jet fuel, gasoline, or diesel.
Contact materials shipped to Ireland (factory powered by 100% wind energy), contacts shipped from Ireland to Jacksonville (factory powered by 100% solar energy)
Materials shipped to Jacksonville Florida from Ireland (3,924 mi distance)
All assembled in Jacksonville Florida
Recycling 90 percent of unused materials from Acuvue manufacturing sites
Transportation example: if a customer who lives in Australia orders contact lenses, their order would be produced in the Ireland facility. A plane would need to fly about 10,400 miles to make the delivery while a ship would have to travel about 11,700 miles.
Look at the packaging – what is it made of? Is it sustainable? In what way?
Boxes made of some sort of paper are packaged inside a cardboard box if shipped
All Acuvue contact lenses guarantee 100% sustainable paper and pulp packaging (box and leaflet) certified by either the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council), PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification) or SFI (Sustainable Forestry Initiative) (https://www.jnjvisionpro.com/about/sustainability)
If possible, try to describe the manufacturing process. What emissions does the manufacturing produce? Solid waste? Wastewater? Air pollution?
The manufacturing process for daily contact lenses involves heavily processing crude oils to extract raw materials for the silicone hydrogel component. It takes about 230-235 MegaJoules of energy to extract 1kg of silicone which comes from hydrocarbons from fossil fuels. Contact lens companies like Bausch and Lomb reported using 131kWh of electricity in their manufacturing cycle (http://www.designlife-cycle.com/soft-contact-lenses).
They are typically made through a process called lathe cutting, which involves shaping a small disk of plastic or silicone material using a lathe.
A mold of the desired contact lens shape is created.
This mold is then used to cut the shape out of a larger piece of plastic or silicone material using a lathe.
The lathe cuts the material into the desired shape by spinning it at high speeds and using a cutting tool to remove excess material.
After the contacts have been cut, they are cleaned and sterilized, and any additional coatings or materials are applied to the surface.
The contacts are then packaged and shipped for distribution.
There are also newer manufacturing techniques for contacts, such as 3D printing, which allows for more precise and customized shapes and designs.
For how long do you use the product? (minutes? years?)
Approximately 12-16 hrs per day
Each day the user puts in a new pair of contact lenses and throws them away at the end of the day once they have finished their life cycle
For how long do you use the packaging? (minutes? years?)
The packaging of the contacts remains until the contact is opened and then is immediately discarded
The outer packaging and mailing packaging is usually discarded once the contacts are received
What happens to the product and its packaging after its end of service? Can any of these terms be applied: reused, repurposed, refillable, recyclable, compostable?
the contact lens itself *could* be recycled: silicon recycling is considered downcycling because the quality degrades with each subsequent use; it may not be able to be made into more contacts but could be made into products requiring less quality silicon (phone cases, top of our coffee cups)
the plastic casing can be reused for more contact cases
the plastic can (in some cases) be recycled
Contact lenses are not typically considered to be recyclable and end up in landfills where the hydrogel polymers are incinerated. However, if not burned at high enough temperatures, noxious gases like CO2 are produced, contributing towards global warming. Furthermore, if not properly incarcerated, these polymers will sit in landfills for over 80 years.
Alternatives: What are the alternatives for the item and the value they provide? Think about the different levels of product, business model, and system.
Glasses: this is an easy alternative to contact lenses as they have a longer product life. However, glasses can break easily or get lost and are not optimal for certain users.
Not using contacts at all (be blind); creates no waste from glasses or contacts
Laser eye surgery: this is not feasible for some individuals as their eyes are not meant for laser eye surgery. Others also cannot afford the high prices of Lasik
Longer lasting contacts: contacts are created to last monthly or yearly meaning that the customer reuses the same contact lens for that period of time. However, this can cause eye pain in some customers.
Solutions: Design a similar product according to the principles of Circular-Economy.
Alternative plastics for the bottom of the casing- bioplastics? Biotic?
drawbacks: high price point that could significantly raise the price of something that is already difficult to afford for many people; some people do not know how to dispose of them properly
Contact reuptake program: individual lenses can be collected and sent back to the company or to outside companies that can recycle the silicon and use it to make other products: kitchen utensils, phone cases, etc.
Case reuptake program: the plastic casing could be saved, returned to the company for sterilization and reuse
cuts down on raw materials used (less crude oil extraction)