How much gear do you have?
Admittedly, being a pro photographer doesn’t require as much equipment as it used to, and unless you’re developing silver gelatin prints, what we do use has a much smaller footprint.
On the other hand, what we use now can also be pretty awful for the environment. More specifically, what we throw away: as we have moved to an increasingly digital process, we are generating more and more electronic waste. In 2016 alone, according to one study, close to 45 million metric tons of e-waste were created. University of San Diego’s Electronics Recycling Center reports that e-waste represents about 2 percent of the totalwaste in a landfill, but nearly 70 percent of all hazardous waste—and it’s getting worse.
What is e-Waste?
The term e-waste refers to all electrical and electronic equipment or parts that have been discarded by its owner as waste (without the intent of re-use–handing your old flash down to your kid brother doesn’t count, natch).
For photographers, that could mean anything from used batteries or bulbs to monitors, printers, or photovoltaic panels. Even things we don’t necessarily think of as equipment can be bad when tossed: fans, postal scales, calculators, routers, cell phones: face it, as Americans, we love our tech … right up until the time something newer catch’s our eye, and that toy we couldn’t live without yesterday becomes tomorrow’s hazardous waste.
Of course, that’s not all on us–there are roughly 90 million iPhone owners in the US alone–but photographers do use a lot of tech, and we can be as guilty as anyone of simply chucking it when we’re done. But seriously, what else can we do? Besides filling our homes with a ton of electronic paperweights? Plenty, as it turns out. Just like all our other trash, we need to think in terms of environmentally sound management of electronic waste and make efforts to minimize its adverse impacts on human health and the environment.
With planning, we can substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, repair, recycling, and reuse–just like we do with other waste.
Cutting Down on eWaste
A Google search for things like “electronics recycling” will usually turn up multiple disposal options in your area. Some specialized businesses only handle e-waste, selling anything salable and parting the rest into specific categories. It’s the easy way to safely and responsibly dispose of your old tech. If it happens to be a non-profit, you may even get a tax deduction.
You can also recycle simply by passing along, like to that kid brother we mentioned earlier. Or, if it’s working, donate your tech to a shop that sells used items back to the community. You’ll need one that specializes, though: Goodwill or Salvation Army centers generally don’t appreciate old electronics that have no general market value, like CRT monitors.
In fact, if you do find an e-waste center that offers pre-owned tech, you can save even more money by shopping there first if you need new equipment. Not only does buying used save you cash, it helps maintain the cycle of avoiding landfills.
It’s Time to Rethink Old Tech
With so much consumption of new technology in our country and around the world, it has become critical to make our tech use more sustainable by raising awareness levels, specifically in the area of electrical and electronic equipment disposal. And since we, as photographers often use more than our share of such devices, we should be leading the charge.
So think twice when it comes to getting rid of old tech. If you can avoid throwing away old items out of convenience, you’ll doing a big favor for yourself and the environment.