Environmental Impact - digital vs traditional photography

Started May 15, 2012 | Discussions
PhotographyDirectoryProject
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Environmental Impact - digital vs traditional photography
May 15, 2012

Hi,

Does anyone know if there is any published comparisons of the environmental impact of a digital photography workflow with inject print vs traditional photography workflow.

I was thinking of something along the lines of;

Traditional - Shot on film, processed, and printed on silver halide based paper.

Digital - Shot digitally, 'processed' on computer and printed using pigment inks on an archival paper such as photo rag.

I know there are lots of variables such as the rate at which equipment is replaced/upgraded, electricity used 'processing' digital images, etc....

Thanks
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ZorSy
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Re: Environmental Impact - digital vs traditional photography
In reply to PhotographyDirectoryProject, May 15, 2012

There are numerous documentation relevant to your question. In Australia it starts with this:

http://www.watercorporation.com.au/_files/PublicationsRegister/3/IWPUB27.pdf

But, will you find definite answer? I don't think so, like on

http://www.rangefinderforum.com/forums/showthread.php?t=95912

The only thing I know is that digital produces less physical waste in my household.

Cheers

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hotdog321
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Re: Environmental Impact - digital vs traditional photography
In reply to PhotographyDirectoryProject, May 15, 2012

You didn't mention one huge impact of film-based processing: the chemicals and heavy metals have a massive environmental and health impact. Silver recovery and used color, even black and white, chemistry from film and prints was nasty. Also, I used to make print after print after print getting an image "just right" back in the film days. I use far less material these days with dit.

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Leonard Migliore
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Bad prints
In reply to hotdog321, May 15, 2012

hotdog321 wrote:

You didn't mention one huge impact of film-based processing: the chemicals and heavy metals have a massive environmental and health impact. Silver recovery and used color, even black and white, chemistry from film and prints was nasty. Also, I used to make print after print after print getting an image "just right" back in the film days. I use far less material these days with dit.

I handn't thought about that part. I was aware of the chemicals, but now I remember throwing out a lot of prints before I liked what I saw; those really add to the burden.
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tkbslc
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Re: Environmental Impact - digital vs traditional photography
In reply to hotdog321, May 15, 2012

hotdog321 wrote:

You didn't mention one huge impact of film-based processing: the chemicals and heavy metals have a massive environmental and health impact. Silver recovery and used color, even black and white, chemistry from film and prints was nasty. Also, I used to make print after print after print getting an image "just right" back in the film days. I use far less material these days with dit.

Computers and electronics are replaced at an astonishing rate and most of them contain materials considered toxic waste. A 5 year old computer is essentially worthless and if improperly disposed of can leach chemicals like mercury into our water supply. It could be argued that we'd all have computers anyway, regardless of photography, but I am just saying digital is not terribly "green".

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hotdog321
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Re: Environmental Impact - digital vs traditional photography
In reply to tkbslc, May 15, 2012

I agree completely. I would love to see more companies recycling the parts and heavy metals from these beasts.

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jess shudup
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Re: Bad prints
In reply to Leonard Migliore, May 15, 2012

And every roll of 135 film came in a plastic (or metal) canister, inside a box, each box with an instruction/data sheet. Sometimes as a "hanger pack" with even more to dispose of.
120 and other roll film has its packaging, and data sheets too.
A lot to dispose of every 12, 24, or 36 shots.
And the film hasn't even gotten to the lab !

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rsn48
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Digital, environment, western lifestyle
In reply to PhotographyDirectoryProject, May 15, 2012

My buddy and I occasionally have discussions on the future of the planet; he's the green guy, I'm not. I tell him putting your garbage in the "right" container - newspaper, compost, bottles and cans, etc - is just re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. I've always maintained the earth can not sustain our western style of living, purchasing and discarding of which I'm as guilty as anyone else. How many TV's are in your house or houses, how many different styles of dishes, how many cars have you owned and currently own whether working or not, how many cameras have you owned over the past 30 years? How many digital cameras have you owned or are kicking around in your draw unused after you got the new and improved model. How many will purchase the Canon 5D 3 even though they own the Canon 5D 2, just because they can.

When us old farts went to university in the 60's the big topic was over population and I have to say, since we all ignored the issue, what was predicted is coming to pass. The earth can not sustain us in our current lifestyle, I personally think there are too many people on the planet for the earth to sustain us long term. I used to think the Chinese were nuts with their one baby policy, now I think they are brilliant.

I was just reading our local newspaper here in Vancouver this morning with a small article which won't get much attention and it says exactly what I am saying here, the earth can't sustain a western lifestyle, I think it should instead say, the earth can not sustain the current population with a western lifestyle. The western lifestyle has a five times the consumption of poorer nations.

There is a photographer who shoots garbage and this is the message he is trying to get out. In the link below, if you find the picture of "Plastic Bottles," its a picture of plastic bottles equal to the plastic bottles used around the planet in one day.

So how does this relate to Digital photography. My first SLR was purchased in 73, my second SLR in 92; my first DSLR was purchased in 2003, 2nd in 2008 and my most recent DSLR in 2011. And I don't want to even mention how many P&S's I've owned or bought for family over all those years - I'm part of the problem.

I personally think that Digital purchases reflects our western values, get the newest and wait a few years then get another one. I know for a fact many of us have purchased far more DSLR's in the last ten years, than all the SLR's over the prior 30 years. My buddy who purchased 3 SLR's over 30 years has in the past 10 years purchased 10 DSLR's. Another of my buddies bought his first DSLR 4 years ago, he's now on his second.

Chris Jordan, garbage photographer:

https://www.google.ca/search?q=chris+jordan+photography&hl=en&prmd=imvnso&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=g5eyT8XQIsqniAKd-sSFDw&sqi=2&ved=0CJQBELAE&biw=1280&bih=709

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Greenville
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I have several computers over 5 years going strong
In reply to tkbslc, May 15, 2012

Personally I don't see a lot of need to replace computers every 5 years anymore. Very little I can't do with my older computers. I have one 10 years old still going strong. Works great for office and web needs. Another that is just about 7 years old that works great for photo editing and many other projects. Seems to me mostly the OS just keeps putting on demands to do the same job.

tkbslc wrote:

hotdog321 wrote:

You didn't mention one huge impact of film-based processing: the chemicals and heavy metals have a massive environmental and health impact. Silver recovery and used color, even black and white, chemistry from film and prints was nasty. Also, I used to make print after print after print getting an image "just right" back in the film days. I use far less material these days with dit.

Computers and electronics are replaced at an astonishing rate and most of them contain materials considered toxic waste. A 5 year old computer is essentially worthless and if improperly disposed of can leach chemicals like mercury into our water supply. It could be argued that we'd all have computers anyway, regardless of photography, but I am just saying digital is not terribly "green".

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tkbslc
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Re: Digital, environment, western lifestyle
In reply to rsn48, May 15, 2012

rsn48 wrote:

I was just reading our local newspaper here in Vancouver this morning with a small article which won't get much attention and it says exactly what I am saying here, the earth can't sustain a western lifestyle, I think it should instead say, the earth can not sustain the current population with a western lifestyle. The western lifestyle has a five times the consumption of poorer nations.

I think the population problem will be taken care of in the relatively near future by one of 3 ways:

1 - Resources will be scarce enough to cause starvation and wars, which will result in mass causalities

2- The Earth will fix the problem by killing us off with a plague or series of horrible natural disasters

3- We as a human race will figure out how to control population and decrease consumption

The last one is the most desirable, but least likely.

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Erik Magnuson
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Where do you draw the lines?
In reply to PhotographyDirectoryProject, May 15, 2012

PhotographyDirectoryProject wrote:

I know there are lots of variables such as the rate at which equipment is replaced/upgraded, electricity used 'processing' digital images, etc....

Depending on where you live, there is also electricity needed to heat/cool the water for film processing. Also depending on where you live, getting potable water and processing waste water will vary in impact.

More sticky issues: do you count manufacturing environmental cost/waste? Transportation costs? If "process B" employs 1000 people vs. 100 people, is that a plus (i.e., employment) or a minus (i.e. all those people need to commute, eat, p*ss, etc.)

Back in the early 90's there was a magazine dedicated to such issues called "Garbage". Every time they attempted such a comparison, they were bombarded with letters saying "you forgot this" or "you counted this wrong." I suspect you can make any outcome you like simply by choosing how many levels of indirection to stop counting impacts or changing the weighting of the factors (e.g., is landfill space or waste water the larger concern in your community?)

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PhotographyDirectoryProject
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Re: Where do you draw the lines?
In reply to Erik Magnuson, May 16, 2012

So are we saying that the environmental difference between digital & analogue is negligible, or that it is just too complicated to even try working out??

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hotdog321
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Re: Where do you draw the lines?
In reply to PhotographyDirectoryProject, May 16, 2012

It would take a fair amount of time and money to do a decent scientific analysis on the environmental impact of these processes. Are you doing a master's thesis or hired by someone?

The EPA, possibly OSHA, might be a good place to start. They were/are involved in the chemistry and silver recovery aspects. The newspapers I worked for had to put in all kinds of specialized recovery plumbing and tanks to store used chemistry. They faced fines if they just dumped it down the sewer.

Of course, you would also have to balance the silver/chemistry question against the fact that most folks today would already own a computer, even without a camera. And modern dit camera bodies/lenses are roughly similar to film cameras, but without the waste.

An interesting question; I strongly suspect film/prints had a far larger environmental impact than modern camera/coomputer/inkjet workflows. And speaking of chemistry, check out Kodachrome (RIP) sometime!

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Marty4650
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Speaking of inkjets
In reply to hotdog321, May 16, 2012

Consider this:

  • 40 years ago virtually every photograph shot got printed. Even the pros made contact prints before selecting the images they wanted to enlarge. The other 99% of us printed everything in 3"5" or 4"x6" prints, and just select the best ones for enlargement.

  • Today, almost NOTHING gets printed. Even those photographers who pride themselves on "making a lot of prints" probably print less than 2% of the shots they took. The rest of us are printing less than .01% of the thousands of shutter clicks we make.

  • This isn't just limited to photography. The amount of ink and paper used to produce newspapers, magazines and books has fallen steadily for the past 30 years, despite significant increases in population.

  • Digital technology has prevented billions of tons of toxic materials from reaching our landfills. Even if it also creates some wastes, the environmental impact has been astounding.

  • There is no going back. The days are long gone when you could have a roll of 24 shots printed for $2.50. It will now cost four or five times that much. And this is simply because an ounce of silver has gone from $1 cents to $27 per ounce. And this is with almost all the demand for silver for photography being removed! Imagine what it might cost if we were still printing billions of photos per year.

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hotdog321
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Re: Speaking of inkjets
In reply to Marty4650, May 16, 2012

Jeez, I completely forgot the contact sheets! Yeah, even more waste. Then there is the plastic film stock, and plastic storage sleeves. Plastic and metal film cassettes, paper film boxes.

I remember seeing photos of someone who had made a big river raft float out of thousands of empty plastic film containers in a net!

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Erik Magnuson
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Difficult for global impacts, easier for local
In reply to PhotographyDirectoryProject, May 16, 2012

PhotographyDirectoryProject wrote:

So are we saying that the environmental difference between digital & analogue is negligible, or that it is just too complicated to even try working out??

Too complicated considering the global impacts. However, for your local community impact it would be easier -- unless you have a sensor semi-conductor plant in your area -)

Digital uses electricity for computing and cooling. Waste is uncoated or simply coated paper, empty ink carts, old lithium batteries and electronics.

Film uses electricity for the enlarger, drum, water temperature control. Waste is used chemistry with silver, a lot of water, emulsion coated paper, small silver batteries.

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Erik Magnuson
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10 cents a print is easy to find
In reply to Marty4650, May 16, 2012

Marty4650 wrote:

  • There is no going back. The days are long gone when you could have a roll of 24 shots printed for $2.50.

Of course $2.50 is not what it used to be either.

But that's only $0.10 per 4x6 print. There are plenty of places that will do printing for that price. Develop and print costs a lot more, but there is no silver added for developing so the cost of silver is a non-issue. (It's the maintenance of a machine for low volumes and manual handling that's expensive.)

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Henry Falkner
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Re: Environmental Impact - digital vs traditional photography
In reply to ZorSy, May 17, 2012

ZorSy wrote:

There are numerous documentation relevant to your question. In Australia it starts with this:

http://www.watercorporation.com.au/_files/PublicationsRegister/3/IWPUB27.pdf

The last photographic laboratory I worked for (in 1972) recycled its water, for the simple reason that the processing needed better purity than came out of the tap. The environmental aspect was a beneficial but accidental byproduct.

The only thing I know is that digital produces less physical waste in my household.

I never processed film and paper at home, hence I had no photographic waste. The prints I got done did not get thrown out. They live in yellow plastic boxes.

Now I am inclined to think that my impact on the environment is greater since the advent of digital products, simply because I use vastly more of the stuff.

I do print some of my digital pictures. There are prints for ourseleves, friends and relatives. There is art documentation for the insurance, and trial prints for the newsletter I produce every month, which then gets printed in colour by the recipients. Most of this printed material is of temporary importance, so it gets ditched after a while.

Even though all the paper going through this household gets used on both sides, there is substantially more of it going into the recycling since I started using computers in the mid-1980ies and digital cameras since 1997.

In the film days between about 1958 and 1999 I would get one film processed and printed every two weeks on average, and I bought 14 cameras and projectors (still and Cine).

From about 1985 until 1997 I bought 9 computers and 2 printers (dot matrix).

From 1997 until today in 2012 I bought 16 cameras (14 digital still and 2 DV taoe camcorders), 4 computers and six printers (ink jet).

The cameras and computers get sold or passed on, so somebody else throws them out.

The printers get used until they stop functioning. The recycling station may or may not recycle them.

To sum up, since the advent of computing and digital photography in particular I have used more resources than I did before.

Henry

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Erik Magnuson
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Re: Environmental Impact - digital vs traditional photography
In reply to Henry Falkner, May 17, 2012

Henry Falkner wrote:

I never processed film and paper at home, hence I had no photographic waste.

There was waste, you just out-sourced it.

The prints I got done did not get thrown out. They live in yellow plastic boxes.

Unless your heirs think they are indefinitely valuable as originals, you've just post-postponed their entering the waste stream.

I do print some of my digital pictures. There are prints for ourseleves, friends and relatives.

So back in silver days, your friends and relatives did not rate prints? You are the exception then, as double or triple prints for a whole roll just so a few could be given away were very common processing options.

There is art documentation for the insurance,

What, no Polaroids back in the day?

and trial prints for the newsletter I produce every month, which then gets printed in colour by the recipients.

Wait - you can't count printing waste by others here and ignore printing (on your behalf) by others above. Also back in the day instead of your newsletter, you and your readers probably subscribed to a lot of dead-tree magazines printed on hard-to-recycle coated stock.

To sum up, since the advent of computing and digital photography in particular I have used more resources than I did before.

To sum up, your analysis is biased and incomplete. A perfect example of why it's so difficult to do it "right."

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PhotographyDirectoryProject
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Re: Environmental Impact - digital vs traditional photography
In reply to Erik Magnuson, May 19, 2012

Thanks for all the comments. No easy answer then.

I only ask out of pure curiosity, and thought this may be a good place to get some ideas.

Thank you
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