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how green is film?


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#1 Dominic Case

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Posted 15 April 2008 - 09:36 PM

Someone raised the spectre of film as a polluter, in another thread. I thought I'd make a few points. Mostly a bit away from the scope of cinematography itself, but if you shoot film (or digital) you are a part of it.

Progressively over many years, most of the polluting or toxic (or expensive or hard-to-get) chemicals used in processing have been replaced by greener substitutes. Formaldehyde is no longer used as a stabiliser. Silver (removed from the emulsion) is captured down to the last milligram, and doesn't go into the waste water. Developers and other solutions are recycled, reconstituted or regenerated rather than going to effluent. In our lab, even the wash water is purified and re-used. Sound tracks no longer need redeveloping, reducing the use of chemicals and wash water.

Print film has been on a polyester base for a decade. Not because it is unbreakable, or lasts longer in projectors (arguable anyway) but because it is recoverable and recyclable, and old prints don't have to go to landfill.

Agreed that there are much bigger polluters than film - but that's not a reason to ignore any opportunity to improve in any area. As an example, the metal trades used trichloroethane as a grease remover in massive quantities compared with its use as a film cleaner in ultrasonic machines - but it was an ozone depletant whoever used it, so it had to go. That was in the 90s. It's the same now with perchlorethylene - mainly used by dry cleaners, but film labs used it too, and are now finding greener substitutes, and - as they have done for decades - working harder and harder to recapture and recycle used solvent and vapour.

There is a tendency to see anything physical or mechanical as wasteful, and anything digital or virtual as clean, green and efficient. Just because the manufacturing process is out of sight, and most of it is done before the consumer gets involved, doesn't make it cleaner.

Users of digital equipment need totally new gear every few years (or sooner!). Who hasn't seen skips full of PCs, monitors etc, going to the tip? By contrast, film companies tend not to get new gear for decades - witness the age of some of the second-hand gear that people on this list still see value in!
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#2 K Borowski

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Posted 15 April 2008 - 10:16 PM

Locally, the only chemical that is not approved by local sewer codes for direct dump down the drain is silver. At $17/ troy oz. here, you'd have to be a damned nut to dump it anyway!

Stop bath is concentrated vinegar, developing agents are no worse than gasoline (oil and coal byproducts), and ferric ammonium EDTA & sodium hyposulfite (nasty fixer component), while nasty to work with, are relatively benign when diluted with water. Chief concern is that the pH of effluent discharged is not too basic or acidic. Mixing stop and developer & bleach & fix neutralizes this pH problem nicely.

While I believe I still use formaldehyde in the C-41 kits I use, it is SO dilute as to be negligeable. I mean, there's a two-four fl. ounce bottle diluted to make 13.5 L, about 3 3/4 U.S. Gallons. I am not loosing any sleep over my exposure to this stuff, and none of the plants or animals that inhabit our studio have dropped dead or otherwise complained either.
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#3 Dominic Case

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Posted 15 April 2008 - 10:27 PM

It's a slightly different level of problem when you are looking at tens of thousands of litres of chemicals and water per day. Mixing the acidic and alkaline solutons together might fix up the pH, but you would still be putting all those chemicals into the sewer. Here, we have to remove silver to an extent that is uneconomic . . . but of course we do it. Even the accountants are happy. (-ish).

Regulations catch you one way or the other: we pay through the nose for water, we pay again by volume to dispose of it, and we pay levies - not on the concentration of chemicals in the effluent, but on the total mass of any given chemical. So diluting things doesn't help, and it actually costs more because of the extra volume.

The result is that our waste is so damn clean we can re-use most of it.
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#4 Saul Rodgar

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Posted 15 April 2008 - 10:43 PM

Users of digital equipment need totally new gear every few years (or sooner!). Who hasn't seen skips full of PCs, monitors etc, going to the tip? By contrast, film companies tend not to get new gear for decades - witness the age of some of the second-hand gear that people on this list still see value in!


Wouldn't it be nice if one could reuse the chassis and body of digital cameras and swap the innards for newer ones made of recycled older parts. Much like (some) PCs where internal components are interchangeable and the chassis and exterior body panels are used for a lot longer. I have resisted buying an HD camera for reasons similar to these, but based more on the depreciation and obsoletism of modern day technology / equipment. It is a lot better to rent on as-needed basis than to watch originally very expensive and otherwise perfectly fine equipment become obsolete in a few years, sometimes less, and to try to upkeep with it.

Edited by Saul Rodgar, 15 April 2008 - 10:48 PM.

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#5 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 16 April 2008 - 12:28 AM

You ARE kidding Right? :blink: I sincerely doubt that motion picture film and it's processing agents would be a major source of pollution even is the chemicals WERE environmentally unsafe. In the realm of industrial pollution, film wouldn't even hit the top 1000. Now if you want to talk the REAL pollution problem caused by the motion picture industry, let's talk BAD movies, they keep stinking up neighborhood theaters and cable TV like a stage 5 smog alert in El Segundo! I mean REALLY how is it that Tom Arnold actually HAS a movie career, somebody explain THAT to me. I say we ban bad movies UNLESS they're really, REALLY bad, then they're kinda fun to watch and should be exempt from the ban, everyone else who participates in the making of a bad movie immediately is shipped off to Guantanamo to a makeshift jungle film school for re-education. :D
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#6 Jonathan Bowerbank

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Posted 16 April 2008 - 01:04 AM

A colorist told me once that labs owe a lot to the dry cleaning business' lobbyists, in regards to the chemicals and amount thereof that they're able to dump. Can't verify the veracity of that statement myself though.
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#7 Paul Bruening

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Posted 16 April 2008 - 07:38 AM

Martin Hill tells a fascinating story of a lab from the pre-video days. I can't recall what city it was in. He went there to buy their used equipment (that's his business, for those who don't know him yet). They were closing down due to video cutting into their volume. They were a mass production lab. He said that when he was taken into the lab he saw that it was a large warehouse space. The chem tanks were cast in concrete into the floor and were massive. The spool racks were suspended into these large, concrete holes in the floor. Apparently, the film was run through this system at the maximum possible speed that film could sustain. He said that there were workers standing crotch deep in silver sludge. They were shoveling the muck into barrels that were taken out to the dump. They weren't wearing any safety gear and were covered in the muck.

Ahhhh, the good ole' days.
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#8 Michael LaVoie

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Posted 16 April 2008 - 08:07 AM

I wasn't suggesting abandoning film today or tomorrow because it's not as green as digital. I was saying that we might see the day soon when that could be the deciding factor. If digital advanced to the point where it could accurately represent film, you'd be hard pressed to see the logic of risking a hair in the gate, scratched negatives or even the (minor or not) amount of extra pollution the film medium might present. Comparing it to other industries was never part of my argument and of course there are much more damaging environmental hazards particularly in our business. Lots of wasted electricity on really bad movies.
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#9 Walter Graff

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Posted 16 April 2008 - 08:56 AM

I wasn't suggesting abandoning film today or tomorrow because it's not as green as digital. I was saying that we might see the day soon when that could be the deciding factor. I


While I am not a believer in this global warming/human thing, do you realize just how unfriendly digital is? The proces of making video cameras (electronic parts, curcuit boards, solder, connectors) is very much up there with film in terms of bad bad stuff... oh and I will not talk about what it takes to make videotape.
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#10 Michael LaVoie

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Posted 16 April 2008 - 10:26 AM

The process of manufacturing digital cameras may not be green either but ideally you won't be throwing them away after each shoot. My central thesis is based on the premise that camera A is film and camera B is digital. Camera A requires you to use film that must be manufactured, processed, printed etc and all those steps are unnecessary for Camera B. Both cameras nowadays will likely have computer boards and other non-environmental friendly elements so that argument only applies to the older film cameras. Whether you side on the existence of global warming or not shouldn't really factor in. This argument seems to be heated enough already. My point was only that there may come a day when the waste and the additional cost may be the only determining factor. I realize that videotape isn't friendly either and it's part of the reason I shoot on P2 cards. When I say digital, I refer to reusable media devices. Not tape.

As digital media storage devices advance, the hardware and tools will become more and more efficient, smaller and smaller physical parts will be necessary and eventually HVC's will replace DVD's and you'll have a credit card sized media format holding 100 or more gigs of information. The vaporware in the meantime is sort of a casualty of this advancement and yes our landfills will no doubt overflow with electronics that fade into obsolescence quicker than they took to develop. In the end, hopefully we'll see a solution that is environmentally friendly.
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#11 Michael Lehnert

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Posted 16 April 2008 - 12:30 PM

The problem is just that the digital obsolencence is something that wreaks any claims that digital devices are less environmentally impacting than chemical films: this might be true per device (although I hihgly doubt it - I don't wanna know what is inside my Mac here, although "obvisouly" Macs are much more whale-hugging than Wintels will ever be ;) ...), but when one compares the volumes at hand, digital devices loose out to this question majorly!

Have you ever glimpsed into an average consumer-electronic household and the amount of digital devices that are bought repeateldy in short intervalls to replace obsolete once?

I had one analogue telephone for decades. In the last decade alone, friends of mine are on their 10th mobile phone in half these years, on their 4th DSLR in half that time, and often on their 3rd or 4th digital studio gear (from cameras to NLE systems). No one can open a mathematical equation that tells me that the film run through a 1971 Bolex 16 Pro or 1977 Bauer A 512 or 1963 Eclair Coutant since - say - 1990 is less environmentally impacting than all the devices bought and non-recyclably thrown out by not only industry users but by the enormously bigger consumer user hord!

One is right to discuss the environmental impact of cine-film, but as Dominic said, those have been greatly reduced due to much greater environmental scrutiny applied to business industries rather than consumer-focused industries. Following on points made by Jonahan and Walter, this question really reminds me of people driving ditching their Porsche Cayenne for a Smart car and feeling all smug about it in countryside dining pubs, yet still getting their laundry to the dry cleaner after wearing a shirt once, not switching their heating (or A/C in CA-land) off or using the built-in timers to regulate those when out of the house, driving 200m down the road to their local Pilated class gym, and not even considering replacing their single glass windows with triple-glazing or putting some insulation into their houses!

Sometimes, it's not only superficiality of what is shown in theatres today that kills me, too, but the superficiality of how environmental impact is weighted on an individual basis and what questions are formulated based on that.
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#12 Michael LaVoie

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Posted 16 April 2008 - 01:42 PM

The discussion is one of theory more than practicality. Just look at the principle alone and it's easy to understand. Take a film camera and shoot 1000 hours of film with it. Then take a digital camera and shoot 1000 hours on some sort of reusable digital media with it. 1 camera is going to produce far more waste than the other when your done. That's the principle. Look at no other factor and then decide. Forget about the presumption that you're going to toss the digital camera within a year because we're assuming that both cameras are devices you would maintain and continue to use. The underlying argument is one that both cameras would be of equal value and would not be disposable.

Edited by Michael LaVoie, 16 April 2008 - 01:45 PM.

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#13 Walter Graff

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Posted 16 April 2008 - 02:13 PM

Except it would not be a one on one comparison if we were talking about overall 'footprint'. There are far more electronic cameras overall in the world than film cameras. That alone would have to be two comparative factors in a statistical comparison. Other elements, the production process of both in making the equipment and the medium used to record onto. If there were one of each camera in the world, then the comparison logical. Like a comparison of a typewriter to a printer. You could easily say which one is more green, but the question would not be individually, but as a whole in terms of what are you adding to the bigger picture by using one over the other. As some have noted film manufacturing has become a process where less and less is wasted and the cleanup processes have become quite efficient. Just the industry of Pc board manufacture is one that has tremendous waste issues such as huge amounts of industrial wastewater and treatment residue from manufacture of boards including acids used for cleaning equipment and a lot of copper sulfate crystals which are organic compounds that can cause serious issues for the environment.

Bottom line is that we are in an age of great waste and easy disposability. It's not about electronics as a whole either as different pieces of electronics are recycled differently. Over 4 million computers are trashed each year. Cell phones for instance have an over 60% recycle rate. Video is in the single digits and that's just consumer stuff. About 40 million tons of electronics is dumped a year. Film pales in what it does compared to that.
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#14 Leo Anthony Vale

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Posted 16 April 2008 - 02:16 PM

A colorist told me once that labs owe a lot to the dry cleaning business' lobbyists, in regards to the chemicals and amount thereof that they're able to dump. Can't verify the veracity of that statement myself though.


The perc used for cleaning film and for liquid gate printing is "dry" cleaning fluid.
We had to hand clean film with that stuff & that stuff is hell on one's hands.
One can't wear gloves since one has to be able to feel for torn sprockets and peeling splices.
Thin latex gloves dissolved in the perc.

We worked alot with old UA (MGM) and Columbia (Sony) negatives and Universal nitrate OCNs.

MGM would usually make a new transfer when an improved telecine or video format came out.
So old films need to be stored for future transfers.
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#15 Michael LaVoie

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Posted 16 April 2008 - 02:54 PM

Overall footprint, maybe not but basically you had to make the leap in numbers to counter the argument that digital might not be greener. If everyone in the world owns a digital camera than yeah, the medium is surely going to trump film in waste but what if everyone owns a film camera as well? It comes back to that basic principle and that's the only argument I meant to assert, that all things being equal, if you were to choose a camera to rent and they both had the same features and abilities, you might go with the one that would produce less obvious waste. It might not cross your mind immediately that the digital camera would be tossed in a year or two cause I'm assuming we're talking about a camera like the Red, Phantom or the Genesis. The only cameras currently that you'd be able to put next to film. Eventually they'll probably equal or surpass film and then it would be harder to justify the extra waste of stock and processing.
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#16 Richard Boddington

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Posted 16 April 2008 - 03:58 PM

Great information Dominic thanks!

For the record I eat a bowl full of ground up film stock every day with milk, and look me! I'm 100% of sound mind and body, I'll bet I couldn't say that if I was eating a bowl of video tape each day could I?

R,
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#17 monday sunnlinn

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Posted 16 April 2008 - 05:27 PM

does anyone know if the dalsa or phantom is upgradeable like the red is claiming it will be? i'd like to see a world where genius in efficient design/manufacture/lifecycle/re-cycle and disposal is held in the highest esteem. it seems that we may actually be to the point where resource scarcity has started to make that come true in the design of the latest and greatest gadgets and gizmos...
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#18 Dominic Case

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Posted 16 April 2008 - 08:05 PM

A colorist told me once that labs owe a lot to the dry cleaning business' lobbyists, in regards to the chemicals and amount thereof that they're able to dump. Can't verify the veracity of that statement myself though.

Not really.

It's not so much about dumping chemicals, as letting them escape.

Labs (particularly in recent years) have learnt to be very conscious of solvent recovery and vapour recovery - whether it's in the interests of the environment, or simply getting the most value out of a drum of solvent. So there isn't a lot that escapes into the atmosphere or onto the street or down the drain.

Corner-store dry cleaners don't employ the chemical or industrial engineers whose job it is to make this reclamation work, so they tend to be the greater polluters (and there are rather more dry cleaners than labs in the world too).

But rather than legislation bending to the small business corner stores, it is put in place to regulate them almost out of existence.
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#19 A. Whitehouse

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Posted 16 April 2008 - 09:56 PM

A colorist told me once that labs owe a lot to the dry cleaning business' lobbyists, in regards to the chemicals and amount thereof that they're able to dump. Can't verify the veracity of that statement myself though.


Ive heard that before as well though it was told as a joke with some truth to it. Its hard to ignore the environmental expenditure of film and shooting with film but it strikes that its an area were there is a concerted effort to improve and financial bonus to those that operate efficiently. Plus a lot of regulation, government or otherwise. Manufacture of new film cameras is a small market due abundance of older capable cameras still in operation. While a BL is still chugging think about how many Video cameras have hit the scrap heap in the last 25 years. Ive used cameras that were older than I am. Moving to a "Moore's Law", quick obsolesce model for the Film industry is a tough one to bear and its environmental impact could be larger than traditional film practice. Digital is by no means green. Its all kind of moot point because of the complexities in calculating these things but in my experience most labs Ive encountered have made a point of mentioning some of their environmental efforts. How many digital manufacturers have ever even mentioned it. Circuit boards coming to a landfill near you...
Up-gradability is all good and well but if your replacing the front, middle and backend of a camera every couple of years then it begs the question of why retain the steel frame. Surely the costs involved would be similar to buying the newer camera.
As an anecdote, I'm upgrading my digital projector at the moment from an old data pj to something newer, HD DLP. When it came to getting a new bulb for my old PJ it was only going to be a bit more to get a totally new fully specced one under warranty While I'm paying twice the price of a new bulb Ill be getting a whole new unit which I'm much happier with. This is the kind of world which we're entering into.
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