Rasika Whitesell, OD, owner of Port City Optometry in Wilmington, N.C., has seen her patients’ concerns and interest in sustainability products and the health of the environment heighten since she opened her doors about a year ago.

Rasika Whitesell, OD

“I think people as a whole are much more aware of what they are putting into the environment. There is so much research about how humans are impacting the Earth and the environment. Larger corporations are, thankfully, becoming more involved and speaking out. Companies are actively taking steps to reduce their carbon footprint, such as car manufacturers, the beauty industry and an increase of measures in the eyecare world. This has really helped spread awareness of environmental issues.”

Dr. Whitesell noted that the most common question she gets from patients about sustainable eyecare products pertains to daily contact lenses.

“Daily contact lenses are on the rise in our patients because doctors know they are healthier, more comfortable, and have the lowest risk of infection. When I mention to the patient that we should try daily contact lenses, many times they say ‘that seems wasteful.’ They are worried about the extra packaging and plastic that is being used and tossed away daily,” she said.

“What I tell patients is that most contact lens companies are now making sure the plastic they use is recyclable. I also tell them that if they were in a monthly contact lens that they would still need plastic contact lens cases and at least two bottles of contact lens solution per month. The amount of plastic that it takes to make those products also adds up to nearly the same as the amount of daily contact lens package waste.”

For Whitesell, whose practice provides care for patients with cataracts, dry eye, glaucoma, macular degeneration, and other eye conditions caused by systemic diseases, the opportunity to reuse and recycle is something she values in her new practice.

“I do not believe in wasting anything. I try to purchase/invest in items that can be reused, repurposed or donated. When I opened my practice one year ago, I really wanted mostly everything to be digital. I do not have much paper I use in the office,” she said. “Patients love the digital aspect. Patients also love that they can bring their older pairs of glasses to donate. We send all gently used glasses to the Lions Club. In turn, they will take them on mission trips and/or donate [the eyeglasses] to anyone in need.

“Energy efficiency is also key. Thankfully, in optometry we don't have to use bright overhead lighting. We do have to use a lamp and some equipment does involve bulbs. We try to use LED efficient bulbs whenever possible. We also try to do all electronic billing to patients through email or text and we rarely send out a paper bill anymore or even a reminder postcard. We thankfully live in a digital world that most people have embraced.”

Climate change is another area that can affect the ocular health of patients and presents another opportunity for sustainability initiatives to take hold both at home and in businesses.

“Environmental changes such as humidity, temperature and air quality can have a big impact on ocular health,” Whitesell said. If air quality is reduced, this can increase allergens and pollutants in the air. This would impact the eyes causing dryness, irritation and redness.

“The other concern with climate change is ozone depletion and the decrease of UV protection of our earth; this can negatively impact humans. The eyes, especially, are very sensitive to a higher UV index. Cataracts, pterygium and eye cancers can increase dramatically with an increase in prolonged UV exposure. Rising temperatures, which has also been attributed to climate change, will also lead to dehydration which can result in severe dry eyes.

“Overall, we each have to make small changes in how we run our homes and our businesses. This can collectively lead to a positive impact on the environment and keep our earth sustainable for many more years,” Dr. Whitesell concluded.