The Environmental Effects of Photography
I am not a vegetarian but consider myself a vegetarian sympathizer. I do not believe that eating animals has to be cruel and I do not think that it is unnatural. What I do think is cruel and unnatural is the factory farm and modern meat-packing industry as well as all the dirty politics and marketing that have all but shut us out from more humane and healthy food-making/consuming practices.
So I am bothered that my precious film contains ground up cow hooves and bone marrow or what is more commonly known as gelatin. It bothers me to know that this product is coming from the factory farms I am interested in rallying against and I wonder if film could be produced in the numbers we're used to if factory farms didn't exist.
I wanted to point out that simply switching to digital cameras use does not completely shut the door on environmental/animal harm as it may appear on the surface.
What follows are a list of reasons that, environmentally speaking, digital is not really any better for the environment than film and in fact neither medium can probably ever be truly environmentally friendly.
1--No film has ever been created that successfully uses synthetic gelatin. Perhaps if more folks kept using film instead of 'going digital' and not looking back, film technology could continue to progress at a pace closer to that of digital. Film creation and processing involves the use of chemicals which are not always disposed of in an environmentally friendly manner but in the early 90's when film was still strong, companies were growing more adamant about being better custodians. If the film industry weren't threatened so badly by digital technology, bigger steps would be taken to make film greener.
2--Film can be recycled. movie theaters do it all the tyme. Each film you see in the theater is printed just for those screenings then returned to the distributor in order to be recycled. Again, if film enjoyed a renaissance, badly spent personal rolls too could be recycled.
3--Non electronic film cameras work longer than digital cameras and are made largely of natural or potentially natural materials such as non-toxic metal, leather (animal substitutes of course have been used), rubber, glass and small amounts of oil. Digital cameras contain toxic and heavy metals such as lead and mercury. Their bodies and frames are made of plastic or polycarbonate. while this is recyclable it is not biodegradable like the metal bodies of yesterday and of course requires oil to create. Metal is both recyclable, biodegradable and in some applications longer lasting and stronger.
6--Because digital cameras are not useful for as long as film cameras in terms of repair and obsolescence, they must be manufactured more frequently and disposed of more frequently. Both actions require more energy than building fewer and using longer. Reusing is always preferred to recycling in terms of causing more pollution and environmental disturbance.
5--Digital cameras are more compact and complicated than film cameras making recycling tedious, which is why many are simply trashed. Many of the ones that are recycled are shipped overseas along with the even more toxic computers, monitors, printers and other equipment necessary to operate digital cameras. E-waste is dumped in vast wastelands in third world countries where impoverished citizens pick through our trash mining for tiny bits of gold, silver and other valuables, meanwhile being poisoned with lead and mercury in the process.
6--Batteries are a huge issue. While most film cameras require disposable batteries, they are very small and last for month or years. Digital cameras mostly take rechargeable batteries which sounds more environmentally friendly. but the batteries are over 5 tymes the size of film camera batteries. Instead of containing zinc or alkaline, elements that can be found in our drinking water, modern batteries contain lithium. Another toxic heavy metal that usually is not properly disposed of and continues to be environmentally dangerous even when it is.
7--Automation and computerization naturally requires more energy than mechanical devices. Mechanical cameras use natural energy such as sunlight in the case of selenium operated cameras and human energy from the movement of your hands in operation of the camera, as well as the small alkaline and zinc batteries aforementioned. The more the device does FOR you, the less of your own free clean energy is used and the more environmentally-costly energy must be employed.
So while film may seem unhealthy, complicated and detrimental to the natural world with it's industrial-age chemistry, the things that we consumers don't see much of in the manufacture and disposal of digital cameras is at least equally unhealthy, complicated and detrimental.
So don't think that just because you can hit 'delete' and work with less chemicals and more synthetic products, you are saving the world.
Killing film is not really the solution. Supporting companies that make smart and transparent environmental decisions is far more relevant and useful than banishing the old way of doing things. Most likely, a hybrid of available and developing technologies will provide the most effective solutions.