"Eye" See what you did there: Aquarium volunteer keeps contact lenses out of our ocean

Colorful clams and scallops grouped together.

“I’d never seen a scallop (that hadn’t been breaded and/or deep fried),” says Jacquelyn Simmons, reflecting on her time before joining the Aquarium volunteer team. “But after seeing them live comfortably and learning a few facts about their radiant eyeballs, my appreciation for them has poured over to general love of eyeballs and retinas of all beings.” 

Engaging the mind and heart

Jacquelyn has felt inspired not only by the animals in our care but also by our team of volunteers since she first joined in 2014. “When I was accepted I was nervous,” she says. “That fear was completely eliminated after my first shift; everyone I encountered, from guests to volunteers to café staff, was so supportive and genuinely eager to learn with me.” Along with pursuing her passion for protecting the marine environment, Jacquelyn discovered satisfaction in the work and lifelong friendships among her fellow volunteers. “The Aquarium gives me a fun and educational outlet that satisfies my intellectual desire for knowledge,” she explains.

Jacquelyn Simmons
Volunteer Jacquelyn Simmons keeps her focus on ocean health.

An eye on reducing plastics pollution

Jacquelyn’s delight in the ocular biology of tide pool creatures flowed into her professional life, and she started working for the Columbia Vision Center in Seattle. Our Life on the Edge exhibit—her favorite spot to volunteer—inspired her to find a solution for all the waste created from single-use contact lenses and their packaging so it doesn’t end up as plastics pollution in Puget Sound and our one world ocean.

In 2018 she launched a collection box in her optometry office for the used lenses and packaging of not only Columbia Vision Center’s patients, but nonpatients as well who’d heard about the program. By partnering with TerraCycle, Jacquelyn is able to redirect those units from the landfill and incinerator to being reused, upcycled or recycled. As of March 2020, her program has collected over 12,000 units! And she’s not stopping there.

Jacquelyn has extended the program to another clinic downtown, including its departments of dermatology, physical therapy and family medicine. “They’ve begun a small collection of contact lenses to be recycled within their ophthalmology department, and they’re working to encourage all contact lens wearers in other departments to begin recycling their contact lenses and spread awareness about proper recycling of medical waste materials.”

Inspiring generations of conservationists

Jacquelyn’s tangible results toward protecting our marine environment are inspiring. You can get to know more volunteers who’ve been moved to action on behalf of the marine environment by checking out the Aquarium’s 2019 annual report. Interested in volunteering yourself? We hope to resume volunteer trainings in early 2021; check out our website for more details.

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