The green side of photography: labs and the environment.


Photo by Kelly Anderson


When April and May bring us days that are essentially summer weather, the thought might have lingered in the back of your mind that maybe, just maybe, global warming isn’t so bad after all. I’m probably part of a minority when I say that I miss the slow fade out of winter we used to have. Granted, we still get those blissful, magical days where frost blankets our lawns and fields, random snowflakes fall from the sky and the sun peaks out from behind clouds, making Jack Frosts visions dance. As photographers, I’m sure the beauty in that kind of day is not lost on you.

There exists in the world between environmentalists and photographers a debate on printing vs. digital. Which is better for who, and why? What kind of effect do photo labs, with their chemicals and high paper usage, have on the planet?

Here at Atlantic Photo, it’s pretty obvious where we stand on the debate. Printing is an integral part of photography. Why would we want to capture memories, if not to proudly show them off now, and in the future? Who knows how long discs and hard drives will be around, before the next big technology mixes it all up again? I’d rather have a hardcopy, especially one that will last at minimum of 100 years.

Which brings me to my point- while you might think a photo lab would be harder on the environment then most businesses, we’re not. Any photo waste gets shredded and recycled. We also have a bin for paper waste that doesn’t need to be shredded. We recycle the tubes that the different sizes, and types, of paper come on. Empty film canisters and containers, the rollers from 120 film, and one time use camera bodies all get recycled. We have a green bin for our food waste, and a bin for our pop cans, juice boxes and water bottles. We reuse cardboard boxes for shipping. As far as chemicals go, the bottles they come in are all recyclable. Also, there are rigorous standards and tests for what goes down the drain once the prints go through. We use a Silver Recovery Unit to harvest the silver that’s created by the chemical process, which gets shipped away and melted down every so often.

Upstairs, in the Digital Image Lab, scrap paper is reused for color testing and machine maintenance checks. All the orders are ganged in order to produce less waste. Geraldine is also excellent at what we call “spotting”. Sometimes in printing, ink just won’t stick to little spots, and you end up with tiny white dots. Most labs would probably reprint these images, but Geraldine “spots” them. For this process she uses dyes specifically made for retouching prints- similar to the dyes that were used for retouching negatives back in the day. This saves time and waste, which can quickly add up, given some of the sizes our clients print!

Our customers get in on the action, too. Most of the locals will bring back any unused packing materials, which we put back into use. Some clients from further away decide to ship back unused packing materials as well. Though, the jury is out on whether or not this is environmentally (and cost) effective. Recycling these materials at home, instead of shipping it back to us, may very well be the better idea. Of course, this also depends on how thorough the recycling system in your province is.

The first step in fixing anything, big (the environment) or small (our habits), is to be aware. We’re trying to do our part- are you doing yours?