Disposal of Film

Discussion in 'Film and Processing' started by rossb, Nov 2, 2010.

  1. I was wondering about the disposal of film. I understand that B/W film has a lot of silver but color film apparently does not. Can you just take old film to your local Hazmat disposal area. We have a Hazmat disposal at our dump every third Saturday and I could ask them next time I am disposing of house paints. However does anyone know about disposal of films.
    I got on this topic as I was thinking about processing my own B/W films at home but after reading the MSDS on the chemicals I decided I do not want to take that on especially since I am on a septic system. Now I am wondering if I should stop shooting B/W film. I do have a few decades of film and half of it could be disposed of. I plan or going through the shoeboxes as a new years resolution. I will dispose of the film and probably will take it to the Hazmat day at the county dump.
    I try to leave a light footprint as I move through life. I commute to work on a bicycle (Surly Long Haul Trucker) and my wife and I share a single care that gets 38mpg mixed driving (Honda Fit). Generally we avoid buying chemicals and our garden and lawns are organic. Recycling is a standard around here. Anyway I am trying and that means learning. I am here to learn from the experts on this forum about film. Thanks.
  2. Not everything can be saved, unless you are a 'hoarder'. It is admirable that you are trying hard to help out the common good.
    However, as a anal-retentive archaeologist (and we all pretty much are, or we'd be doing something else), where an innate tendency on my part was coupled with explicit training to reinforce the conservation ethic, I'd just remind you that conservation applies to historical data and human creations as well as to nature. The 'artist' is not always the best judge of the quality of their work. If only we had some of the paintings and musical compositions that were destroyed by their makers over the centuries. It is common these days for art historians to discover accidentally preserved archives that shed new light on an artist and on the cultural environment.
    Of all things to keep, film--negatives and slides--must be among the most compact.
    A picture that was ordinary, even banal when it was taken, becomes an historical document after time passes of things that generally didn't get recorded because they were ordinary and banal to most people at the time.
    Thus the snapshot is often a more important historical document than a Karsh portrait, not for the picture of Aunt Maude and her friends on a picnic, but for the things in the background, the day-to-day fabric of life at a particular time and place.
  3. B&W scrap film has value for the silver. Not so for color. But neither is classified as hazmat by any stretch of the imagination.
    But, as JDM mentions, consider this book. All the pictures in this book are negatives that were (barely) saved from silver recycling.
  4. In general, film and normal color and B&W chemical pose few real hazards with usual common sense handling, and in the quantities used by the average amateur. Certainly no worse than normal household cleaners, paints, etc.
    TBH, I think that your worry about the need for Hazmat disposal of B/W films is way OTT! If, however, you REALLY want to lose all your past negatives (I'd be horrified to destroy the memories, and potential historical interest in them?) for ever, there are silver recycling/reclamation firms who can recover the silver from these (and from scrap photopaper, fixer, etc.).
    As for giving up B/W, would you then be giving up all photography? If you replace with digital gear, you then have the environmental cost of manufacture of electronic equipment (and its obsolecence in 12 months time!), then the hazards of chemicals in inkjet ink, disposable printer cartridges for landfill, paper manufacture, etc.
    Like all sensible people, I too try to practice recycling and reuse (Pentax equipment from the 1980's, MF and darkroom stuff from the 70's), but there are MANY more seriously harmful hobbies than our photography, and we do need to keep things in perspective.
  5. B&W chemical pose few real hazards with usual common sense handling, and in the quantities used by the average amateur. Certainly no worse than normal household cleaners,​
    In fact, some black and white developers have a lot in common with some types of drain cleaner.
  6. Ross, does anyone in your house take prescription or over the counter medications? The majority of these are excreted by the body and are not affected by sewage treatment plants, much less by septic fields. Most of them are much greater environmental problems that the wee bit of silver that goes down the drain from a hobbyist.
    BTW, MSDSs were written to apply to commercial wholesale quantities of chemicals. Try reading the MSDSs for the gasoline you buy for your car, toilet cleaner and all other household chemicals.
  7. Ross, I don't know what to begin to say to someone who talks about disposing of a lifetime's worth of photos. However wortheless you evidentyly consider these photos to be, they are presumably the record of memories of your life and your family's life that would be treasured by your children and grandchildren. Even if they are not family photos, they are a record of what was interest to you that your family may value when you are gone. Please don't say that you have prints or scans and don't need the negs -- negs are the original that are needed to make replacement prints or enlargements and digital is the least archival world of all since today's computer and operating system are tomorrow's paperweights. As for hazardous material, others are correct -- not hazardous in the least and only an environmental concern in commercial quantities like a processing lab that runs thousands of rolls a day. I think you need to give some serious thinking to what you have proposed.
  8. A few thoughts on what has already been said. Black & White films and papers do contain silver. After processing, some of the silver has been removed and some remains on the material. The silver that remains is metallic silver. Now for a substance to be toxic it must somehow become dissolved in say water. Well metallic silver is not dissolvable. That is why silver and gold and platinum are precious. They are either inert or nearly inert meaning they exit in nature in there pure form as well as an ore . What I am trying to tell you is, it is the compounds of silver that municipalities worry about. If metallic silver were toxic, grandmother would need to turn in her sterling jewelry and knives and forks.
    Now if you hand over the silver bearing papers and films to a refiner, most burn the material and recover the metal from the ashes and from the fly ash generated by the incineration. Some refiners chemically strip off the silver by causing it to revert to a dissolved salt of sliver. We recover this stuff mainly for the revenue. Color films do contain minute amounts of metallic silver. The problem is, the content is too low to make recovery economical.
    The chemicals of the process are low in toxicity. Silver ions are toxic and are in the effluent. If discharged to the sewer or septic tank these compounds react with the sulfur in the fixer to form silver sulfite one of the most inert compounds. However, the municipal sewer authority despises silver. Silver, rightly or wrongly is labeled as a toxic. The silver as silver sulfite falls to the bottom of the sewer treatment plant's sludge container. The municipality wants to sell the sludge to be used as a land fill or fertilizer, a test reveals silver, the value of the sludge plummets. The big bugaboo is fixer. The fixer we use is the same stuff used by tropical fish fanciers. One or two drops will clear the chlorine out of a liter of water. Now the sewer plant must chlorinate to kill the bugs. If a photo lab discharges fixer, the municipality must use 10 times or more chlorine to disinfect the plant effluent. This is costly.
    Silver is used all over the world to purify swimming pools. Silver is added to in-home water filter produces to help curb the growth of bacteria in the filter. Silver is or was used in the human body in teeth and replacement joints. It was used in water treatment plants, It has anti bacterial prosperities.
  9. SCL


    Commendable, but like so many people who become converts to the latest craze without an in depth understanding of the full ramifications, a little bizarre and sad. Like others said, I wouldn't worry about it in the big scheme of things.
  10. Well thanks for the reply's. I am going to follow the MSDS information that came from Illford. They state that photographic chemicals are harmful to the bacteria in my septic tank so I will just take them at their word and forget the processing at home idea. As far as old negative go I will toss them into the trash bin until I learn something different. My thread was not about digital camera's or medications or quitting photography. It is only about doing the right thing when I have a choice.
    Actually I have negatives from about 100 yrs ago give or take. I have one of my grandparents from 1901 and this one of my Grandparents and their kids (my uncles and aunts) from 1917. Obviously these negatives are not to be tossed out. I merely want to toss out the junk stuff like lens testing pictures and pictures taken with broken camera's and that type thing. I have had many broken camera's over the years and some of them took several rolls of film to finally decide it's toast.
    Thanks for the reply.
  11. Oh, my Dad is the bottom right on the picture. My Grand Father, General Lee was a stern man who used a Hickory stick to keep all the kids in reign. I cannot remember which son it was but maybe Frank. Anyway he could plow with 8 horses, 4 abreast and 2 in tandem. My Aunt Sally said it was very difficult and only a real horsemen could manage it. The horses had to be managed just right not to upset the rows. Anyway just a bit of history from a photograph taken 93yrs ago. As you can see I am doing my part of hanging on to photographic history. My daughter is earning her Masters in Library and Archival science and I hope she will take over the photographic library that I have collected sometime.
  12. This is a shot of my grandparents from 1901 and two of the many kids. I do not have a negative for this picture just a real old sepia toned photo that I scanned and touched up in photoshop. It has a slightly unreal appearance to it that I cannot explain. Anyway this is General Lee and Lena, my grandparents. Just a couple years ago the grandson of Albert (baby in the pic) came over and we had lunch together. He is a hard core republican and I am the opposite of him. He has been driving gas hog oil burners for the last 40 years and I have been cycling to work and such. I am in much better shape. We had a great time however. Albert and Leona were always gracious to me when I was a kid. This shot anyway is 93 yrs old. My father was not yet born. I have older pictures but unfortunately I cannot identify my relative in the shots and anyone who could is now gone. Just old pictures of my ancestors but which ones I do not know. I have cases of them however. It's amazing how well a photo or negative will survive in an old suitcase or shoebox..Actually the 1st photo I do not have a negative for that picture. It is also an old print. My Aunt Sally is the one that wrote everyones names down.
  13. Just a last thing. My Grandfather's name was General Lee, he was not a military man. I suppose my Great Grandfather was a General Lee fan back in the day. Wish I had a snap of him. I bet he was a tough bird. Nobody rolled around in a gas hog oil burner back then. You had to earn your miles when you traveled. Anyway thanks for the comments and all.
  14. But they named one of the kids Woodrow, after President Wilson perhaps?
  15. Could be. Never considered that. I like Teddy Roosevelt myself. When I was a little kid Woodrow (Uncle Woody) took me to my first hamburger drive in (that I recall). I think it was an A&W.

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