Why You Should Never Flush Your Contacts Down the Drain

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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]

A Free Cup Share Program Is Coming to Coffee Shops in Boulder, Colorado

iStock.com/fotostorm
iStock.com/fotostorm

Paper coffee cups are wasteful, taking decades to break down in a landfill after they're used for just a small part of someone's morning. But they're also irresistibly convenient to many. A new startup called Vessel Works is aiming to tackle the waste problem at coffee shops by applying the convenience of disposable to-go cups to reusable mugs, Fast Company reports.

The program, which is launching in four Boulder, Colorado cafes, takes the pressure off of customers to provide their own reusable cups. Instead, they can download an app and use it to check out an insulated, stainless steel mug free of charge. Throughout the day, the app updates them on ways their choice has made a difference, including how much waste they've prevented, how much water they've conserved, and how much they've reduced their carbon footprint. When they're done with the drink, users have five days to return their mug to a Vessel kiosk; from there it will be cleaned in one of the startup's facilities and returned to a cafe where the cycle will start all over again.

Vessel isn't the first company to attempt to bring reusable cups into the sharing economy. In 2016, coffee shops in Hamburg, Germany adopted a program where customers could acquire a mug for a small deposit and return it to a participating cafe to get their money back. Vessel Works's program differs in that users are never asked to pay unless they fail to return their cups on time (in that case, they'll be charged a fee).

Vessel is currently working with Boxcar Coffee Roasters and Trident Booksellers and Cafe in Boulder, and is coming soon to Seeds Library Cafe at the Boulder Public Library and the Pekoe Sip House at the University of Colorado. The startup hopes to eventually expand to more cafes and install dropoff kiosks at more convenient locations like transit stops.

[h/t Fast Company]

This Live Stream Lets You Eavesdrop on Endangered Killer Whales' Conversations

iStock.com/Serega
iStock.com/Serega

Southern resident killer whales, which are usually found off the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia, are an endangered species. If you're lucky, though, you might be able to hear a pod of the killer whales chattering away from the comfort of your own home. A website spotted by The Kansas City Star lets you live stream the calls of killer whales from your phone or laptop. Dubbed Orcasound, it uses hydrophones (underwater microphones) to pick up oceanic sounds from two areas off the coast of Washington.

On the website, listeners can choose between the two locations. One is the Orcasound Lab in Haro Strait, which is situated off the coast of Washington's San Juan Islands—the "summertime habitat" of this specific ecotype of whale, according to the website. The other location is Bush Point at the entrance to Puget Sound, where the whales pass through about once a month in search of salmon. However, that hydrophone is currently being repaired.

So what do orcas sound like? They're loud, and they do a whole lot of whistling, whining, and clicking. You can hear a snippet of what that sounds like in a four-minute podcast uploaded to the Orcasound site.

There’s no guarantee you’ll hear an orca, though. "Mostly you'll hear ships," the website notes, but there's also a chance you'll hear humpbacks in the fall and male harbor seals in the summer.

The live stream isn't just for educational purposes. It also serves as a citizen science project to help researchers continue their studies of southern resident killer whales, which are in danger of starvation as Chinook salmon, their main food source, die off.

The makers of Orcasound are urging listeners to email ihearsomething@orcasound.net anytime they hear killer whales or "other interesting sounds." They can also log their observations in a shared Google spreadsheet. Eventually, developers of the site hope to roll out a button that listeners can click when they hear a whale, to make the process easier for people to get involved.

[h/t The Kansas City Star]

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