The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

July 6, 2007

Eye Drops

refresh_enduraEvery night I use one or two of these tiny single-use plastic vials of Refresh Endura eye drops and then throw them away (now, in my plastic purgatory, of course.) And each night I hope as I close my eyes that the drops will work and I’ll be able to open my eyes pain-free the next morning. I have a chronic condition called recurrent corneal erosion, and Refresh Endura drops are the only thing I’ve found, amid all the different drops and ointments and treatments that will work to keep it at bay.

Those who don’t use eye drops might be wondering why they don’t come in a bigger multi-use bottle that would use less plastic. The answer is that then the drops would have to contain preservatives to keep organisms from growing in them. Organisms that could cause blindness from an eye infection. Preservatives that can be very irritating and to which many people are sensitive or allergic.

So, here’s a case where I think the use of plastic is completely useful and appropriate. And I think there’ve probably been many medical advances thanks to plastics of all kinds. Nevertheless, we should find a way to dispose of this plastic properly. Since these eye drops vials don’t contain any number for recycling, I wrote to Allergan, the company that makes them, to find out. Here is their reply:

Date: Thu, 5 Jul 2007 09:54:02 -0700 (PDT)
To: Beth Terry
Subject: Re: Message from Ms. Beth Terry (KMM600590I11L0KM)

Dear Ms.. Terry:

Thank you for your interest in ALLERGAN and Refresh Endura® (Glycerin
1%/ Polysorbate 80 1%) Lubricant Eye Drops, preservative free.

The vials are recyclable; they are # 4. Thank you for being
environmentally responsible!


Medical Information Services
Medical Affairs
Allergan, Inc.
Irvine, CA

So I’ll give them to Michael to put in the recyling bin at work, since they accept #4 plastic. However, I do wonder where the plastic actually ends up that goes into that bin. This is a topic I’m currently researching.

07/16/07 Update: It doesn’t matter that these are #4 plastic. San Francisco only accepts narrow-necked bottles and #2, #4, & #5 wide-mouthed containers. Any other type of plastic item, regardless of the type of plastic, is not accepted for recycling in San Francisco. So these are basically landfill food.

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Ashley L
3 years ago

So, 12 years later, I’m just seeing this post. Thanks so much for it! Though we’ve recycled for years, I’m just now getting serious about cutting plastics out of our lives as much as possible. I, too, was curious about these. I appreciate the info!

4 years ago

Wow, just found this post. I too have the same problem. However, I would recommend Terracycle! They will recycle these and so much more, including food wrappers, makeup cases, coffee pods and the list goes on and on.

14 years ago

Thought of something better: buy a #4 bottle once in a while and put them in that, probably should put a big #4 on it too.
Yeah, buy plastic to recycle plastic isn’t the greatest idea, but when recyclers start seeing these small bits grouped together, they might think it’s a good idea and figure out a better way to recycle all the small stuff, then tell everyone, because you got to sweat the small stuff.

I have always thrown my small and tiny plastic stuff (milk covers and their seals, err what else?) in with the big stuff, but now I am going to recycle them in bunches by type so that they don’t get lost whizzing by the pickers and end up in the landfill. I will try to use a sturdy container of the same type, because a bag probably is good only for bags, hard plastic will eventually rip it.

Wow, thanks for the site, you’ve just made me think a little more about recycling and come up with a better way for me to recycle to try and save all those little guys from being buried alive. I was here looking for Brita info, but stuck around to read more.

BTW, I was thinking of composting the carbon inside it and recycling the plastic container. I use the pitcher filters, which I haven’t opened yet, but I suspect is not double packaged. But further web research (websearch?) revealed activated charcoal can be “reactivated”, I think it’s the same process as creating new, but uses less energy, I guess like metals. I am now considering the expense and effort of sending them to that group to get Clorox to devise cradle to cradle lifecycle for them. They are advertising their greenworks line a lot, so they are still trying to go green.

14 years ago

When I started recycling, I threw everything in my bucket I thought had a chance to be recycled. Then I saw a recycling center inside and started thinking about all those plastic bags: cereal, lunchmeat, cigarette wrappers, anything that wasn’t hard plastic. All blowing all over the recycling center. So I put them all in the biggest bag I had, usually a grocery bag.

ding ding ding

Collect a decent amount of your single-use (ugh) plastic eye drop containers and put them in a bag and put a big #4 on the bag.

Beth Terry
15 years ago

Hi Might I Add. Yes, this post was written in the very beginning before I had visited any recycling centers and seen for myself how the process works. I no longer include these in the recyclable category. Without a number, recyclers wouldn’t know what type of plastic they are. But even WITH a number, they wouldn’t be able to pick these tiny things out of the sort line and properly categorize them. The line goes fairly fast, and the sorters are looking for specific shapes. So even putting these in the recycling bin, they’re not going to get recycled.


might I add...?
15 years ago

Hi Beth,

Sorry, I’m a bit confused about this post/comment.

My understanding was that if there is no number on the item, it can’t be recycled. The response from Allergan seems to say that they CAN be recycled, and your comment here seems to contradict that and say that again, with no number, they CAN’T be recycled.

What can we do about this type of problem? Are these things automatically garbage? Do you think that Allergan (and other companies) would start putting numbers on the packaging if we start pressuring them to do so?

This whole thing is very discouraging.

Thanks for all the work you put into your website. I’m finding it hard to navigate through all the material, but I have definitely been finding some eye-opening stuff here.

Beth Terry
15 years ago

Hi Hillary. Since I wrote this post, I’ve done a lot of research into recycling and seen the way the recycling centers operate. These tiny eye drop containers would never be identified on the sorting line by the people separating the different types of plastics. They are just too small and they don’t actually have a number imprinted on them.

I encourage you to read my posts about visiting recycling centers for some eye-opening information and photos. Just click on the link, “Issues – Recycling” on the sidebar and scroll to the bottom.

The main thing to consider is that just because your area accepts certain items in your recycling bin doesn’t necessarily mean that they get recycled. It depends on many factors.

Thanks for reading!


15 years ago

I’m surprised that SF is so restrictive regarding what it recycles, considering the plastic-bag bans and general “liberalness” that’s perceived as characerizing SF. I live in Boston and we can recycle pretty much everything paper and plastic. I used to live across the river in Cambridge, which was even more permissive — we could even recycle clothing and textiles curbside. On the other hand, my mother lives in Orlando, Florida, and they don’t allow any curbside paper recycling at all. Lame!