Film Photography and The Environment

Zeh Daruwalla

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From the beginning of my adventures in photography, I have always loved film. Growing up in a digital age, my only memories of film were few and rather vague, blurry memories of a time where I would take a disposable camera to the grocery store with my mother to get it developed. I’m certain that others have more distinct memories of the true analog age, yet for me, I only rediscovered film in my adolescence. Lately I’ve been thinking about how to cut down on the amount of waste I produce. Then I took a look at my box of plastic 35mm film canisters.

The invention of 35mm film occurred in 1913. Since then, the amount of film produced and sold is truly uncountable. At the very least, it is safe to assume that the number of these plastic canisters is in the millions. Thankfully, now we do have the facilities to recycle these containers. However, these facilities are not consistently present throughout the world.

Perhaps it is time for a bit of a change in the packaging of film. The production of plastics itself largely produces pollution. This is not even to mention the “candy bar” plastic wrapper packaging of 120 film. If there is a change to be made, the onus is on us to push for it to occur.

Yet, while the only real solution would be to make the move to more sustainable packaging, in the meantime we really must ensure that we are all disposing of our film waste responsibly. I’m sure that those landscapes we like to photograph might not look as nice with all the Portra 400 wrappers we leave behind.

One thought on “Film Photography and The Environment

  1. It’d be nice if there was a less harmful way to conduct our activities as human beings. I agree that film packaging is definitely a great place to start. I’ve often winced at the thought of all the 120 spools I’ve discarded over the years. Hundreds of pieces of plastic, designed to be used for a short period, but unintentionally engineered to last millenia.

    The logical alternative is of course digital photography, but I wonder about the impact of digital cameras. Many of the rare earth metals they contain are sourced through supply chains that use slave labour. The manufacturing process is no doubt extremely resource intensive, polluting, and deleterious to both the environment and those working in factories producing them. Compounding this is the fact that the expected useful life is significantly shorter than film cameras.

    On the other side, it doesn’t take much research to learn about the impact Kodak Eastman has had historically in Rochester NY producing emulsions and coating backing. Absolutely horrific. I doubt Ilford or any other manufacturer is blameless.

    In the end, most activity we undertake has a cost. Inherent in the acceptance of that cost, be it external or not, is a cost benefit calculation that ended up favouring the benefit. Perhaps we’re doing the math wrong.

    Thanks for a thought provoking piece.

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