Are digital cameras more environmentally friendly than traditional cameras?

From the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine

Are digital cameras more environmentally friendly than traditional cameras?

—Ann Veddern, Mason, Ohio

Both technologies have environmental impacts. It may be counterintuitive, but your best option could be a single-use camera, often referred to as a disposable camera, according to James Blamphin, manager of environmental news and information at the Eastman Kodak Company. “The single-use camera has the highest recycling rate of any consumer product,” he says. “We’ve turned a waste stream into a revenue stream.” Since 1990, Kodak has recycled more than 750 million one-time-use cameras through its closed-loop recycling program. The polystyrene covers and viewfinders are grinded down and reprocessed into new camera components, and lense acrylic is made into toothbrushes.

Digital cameras are evolving to be more environmentally friendly, Blamphin explains. They are getting smaller; the camera body mass has been reduced by 50 percent over the last five years, requiring fewer resources. Cameras now run on fewer batteries, and faster computer downloading technology reduces energy use. Kodak and other companies, such as Cannon, have recently decided to remove lead from lenses. Kodak has also removed cadmium from sensors and mercury from displays.

Traditional cameras have gotten a bad rap primarily because of the chemicals required for photoprocessing. Since 1968, the amount of photochemicals required to develop and print one 24-exposure roll has been reduced from two quarts to three ounces—a 96 percent reduction, and chemicals, including the silver used, can be reused, says Blamphin. He stands by his nomination of the single-use camera as the most environmentally friendly option, despite the photochemicals needed to develop pictures, because the recycling process saves resources. After seven or eight years you’re going to get another camera and discard the old one anyway; a single-use camera can be recycled up to 10 times, he explains. And regarding digital technology: “Don’t neglect to consider the chemistry needed for ink jet printing of digital images, and computer chip waste, which there are not well-established recycling programs for,” he says.

CONTACT: Eastman Kodak Company, (800) 235-6325,