Happy first Saturday of fall green friends! I want to take this Saturday to discuss the unsavory topic that is not often discussed, Waste Disposal. Have you ever taken the time to think about your toilet? I know, I know that’s a weird question, but really more specifically… have you ever thought about the items that go down toilets? Aside from human waste or toilet paper, how may the additional things impact our environment?
Most people understand the large toilet clogging items that cannot be flushed, but what about those small items? Items perfect in size for going down the drain, however, not so perfect for their environmental impact. Raise your hand (metaphorically) if you are guilty of throwing a way two frequently used items; disposable contact lenses and left over or expired prescription medication. I wanted to pose this question to get you all thinking about the fact that there has been a rise in the use of the disposable contact lens and a new study done through scientist at Arizona State University has uncovered information that around 15 to 20 percent of the 45 million Americans who wear contact lenses are guilty of flushing their lenses down the sink or toilet.
The sewage sludge used on land for soil conditioning can contain macro and micro plastic particles as a result of flushing contacts. Micro and Macro plastics are pieces of plastic worn down into tiny fragments and often times marine organisms will mistake these plastic particles for food. Just to frighten you a tad bit more, scientist have discovered microplastics in bottled water, tap water, soil and in our air.
I took the opportunity to call up Oklahoma’s Captain Planet and the Department of Environmental Quality’s very own Fenton Rood to pick his brain about this issue. I learned that the sewer system is only designed for human waste, and that waste water passes through bar screens to screen big items. The system is not designed to catch prescription pills, contact lenses or other non- waste materials that are too small and are able to pass through. Once the sewage water passes through the plant and is discharged it goes through another filter process and yet again some non-waste material is left lingering in our water.
Now on to the pharmaceuticals that some of you may be in the habit of flushing. Around 80% of aquatic pharmaceutical pollution comes from domestic medicines, and the environmental impact as a result is quite alarming. The major concern regarding medications present in bodies of water is the increased bacterial resistance to antibiotics that people face and the interference with the growth and reproduction levels of aquatic organisms such as fish and frogs. Aquatic organisms are very sensitive to low levels of exposure and are particularly vulnerable when exposure occurs early on in development both before birth and during the early stages of growth. The impact of medications in our water can create gender ratio imbalances and intersex conditions.
It’s hard to believe that these small items can have such a huge impact on our environment. I would like to provide you all with some alternatives to flushing materials such as contact lenses and medications down the toilet. For contact lenses it’s simple, throw them in your trash to prevent them from ending up in our water supply. Disposing of medication that is either leftover or expired can be a tad bit trickier. The concern that either an animal or young child may get a hold of the medication is a valid one, which is what sends most people to dump their medication down the toilet to begin with. The alternative to safely disposing of medication is to turn them in to your police station or drug store. I suggest verifying with your local area station or drugstore that they participate in take back programs before showing up with a bag of pills (ha ha). If you are nearby the Tulsa area you can also benefit from the services of Covanta; an energy-from-waste facility that employs Destruction Specialist, who securely destroy over 20 million pounds of controlled substances each year. There is also that “at home option” but takes some work on your end to securely prevent leftover medication from becoming a danger to someone else. You can add something like saw-dust, kitty litter, charcoal, comet or powdered spices to the medication along with water to prevent anyone from wanting to ingest the medication. It is also a good practice to place medication in the trash close to the trash pick-up time. All of these options should come before flushing your medication or contact lenses down the toilet.
Sometimes the smallest items can make a big impact on our environment, and it is important to remember to do your part in preventing harmful materials from entering into our ecosystem.
If this little rant has taught you anything I hope that is to think before you flush. I know I have been guilty of flushing a contact or two down the toilet in haste, but since discovering the impact of that decision I have been led to practice better disposal habits. I will leave you with my typical parting gift in the form of a reminder to be made aware of your own impact on our world and continue to; Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
KOB’s very own,
KOB’s very own,