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Photographers, photo processors, and photo shops handle a number of chemicals that could pollute the environment.  In addition to responsible management of these wastes, these businesses are required by law to comply with certain disposal guidelines.


The federal government regularly updates the official list of hazardous wastes in the Code of Federal Regulations. Waste is determined to be hazardous based on the following points:

Ignition: The chemical is flammable or combustible. These materials often have alcohol contents above 24 percent or flashpoints below 140 degrees.

Corrosion: Materials can burn the skin or corrode metals.  Liquids with pH levels falling outside 2 to 12.5 are corrosive.

Chemical Reaction:  Unstable materials that explode or react violently when in contact with water or other chemicals.

Toxicity: Materials containing certain heavy metals, like silver, lead, or mercury.

Identification of hazardous wastes is important to managing them responsibly.  Be knowledgeable about the materials and chemicals onsite by reading product labels, talking to suppliers, and viewing federal regulations. 

Consider that some materials become hazardous after being used due to contaminants.


The following common chemicals and products, which may be hazardous, are often found in photo shops.  Some of the materials may be collected and reclaimed or recycled.

Processing liquids and fixers often used to develop or set photographic images may contain heavy metals and other toxic chemicals.

Cleaners used for film and workstations may be flammable or otherwise hazardous.

Before being developed, photography film contains high levels of silver.  Though negatives, once developed, can be disposed of or recycled, they should be treated to ensure the removal of all silver.

Many shops use silver recovery units to reclaim spent silver from film during development.

Rechargeable batteries, button batteries, and lithium cell batteries may be used or collected by your facility.  Many of these batteries contain lead, nickel, or mercury, and should be recycled and handled as hazardous waste.

Water used for washing prints of chemicals or cleaning silver recovery units should be specially handled and disposed.

Cloths and paper towels that are contaminated with processing chemicals should be disposed of separately or cleaned without discharging the water into regular sewage systems.


Hazardous wastes must be managed properly at all stages of its use.

Keep wastes in separate, approved containers; corrosive wastes should not be stored in metal containers.

Waste evaporation must be prevented in storage.  Containers must be kept closed with no leaks or ruptures.

Note the storage time limit for hazardous wastes.  Depending on the amount of waste the facility generates, you may be required to dispose of these properly within 90 to 180 days.

Keep all containers labeled, and provide a special handling label that gives the accumulation date for all hazardous chemicals.

Keep proper records of hazardous material shipments and receipts.  Also record inspections, training sessions, spills, and any chemical testing that takes place.

Do not store drums outside, where they are susceptible to storm water.  All containers and drums should be emptied and free of hazardous waste when disposed.


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