My new year's resolution is to cull my collection of old photographs. Can I recycle prints as paper waste and negatives or slides as plastic? Or should they all go to landfill? What about old black and white negatives? Do they have a significant amount of silver or other toxic materials coating them? I am willing to send them to a specialist processor, but can't find anything online.
Lyn Ebbs, by email
Personally, being something of a sentimental hoarder, I don't think I'd have the heart to cull my own collection of old photographs, but I can understand your pragmatic desire to start the new year with a clear-out.
I know nothing about their subject matter, but are any of these old photographs of historical interest? Perhaps a local history society might at least like to take a look to see if they could be useful to their research? Or maybe younger family members might find them of interest in years to come? Local newspapers also often make announcements along the lines of "We want your old photos". Or it might be worth touting them on Freecycle? You just never know what use Freecyclers might have for them.
But let's assume that you've already made digital copies, nobody else wants them, and you just want to dispose of the prints and negatives. Kodak has a statement on its website offering advice:
Both types of modern film base (acetate and polyester) can be recovered, though the facilities for doing so may not exist in all locations. The economics of the recovery process, as well as the potential environmental impact, may make the transport of waste film over long distances impractical. If local recovery is not possible, de-silvered film should be disposed of by incineration with energy recovery. If suitable incineration facilities are unavailable, the waste may be disposed of to landfill without risk of adverse environmental effects. Waste photographic paper is not generally recoverable. Most papers are coated with a very thin layer of polythene to control water absorption and speed drying, and should not therefore be mixed with other waste paper destined for conventional paper recovery. Waste photographic paper should be disposed of by incineration with energy recovery. If suitable incineration facilities are unavailable; the waste may be disposed of to landfill without risk of adverse environmental effects.
It would seem, therefore, that the solution depends largely on the facilities available within your local area. If any reader knows of such a facility or service within their area, please can they provide details below.
But while we're on the subject, it might be worth using this opportunity to discuss the merits, or otherwise, of making digital copies of old photographs. With the debate about the environmental performance of data servers heating up, what are the implications of making the switch to digital? What happens when we are forced to make digital format changes in coming years and decades? Should we be storing these digital files on hard drives or remote servers?
This column is an experiment in crowd-sourcing a reader's dilemma, so please let us know your views below and I will join in with some of my own thoughts as the debate progresses. I will also be inviting various interested parties to join the debate too.
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