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Save the Earth and Your Money: Recycle Your Chemicals

Processing your own film you'll need a lot of expensive, toxic chemicals. Luckily you can use the same batch of chemicals several times.

Photo by stratski

When I started processing my own colour films, I was first a bit disappointed by how expensive the neccesary chemicals are compared to the black and white stuff. Over 30 Euro for a bunch of tiny bottles! But then I read the manual, and found out you mix it all with water to make up a litre of every chemical you need. This is enough – the manual said – for 20 to 24 films! So that was not so expensive after all. Hurrah!

Next step in the emotional rollercoaster was finding out that the largest developing tank I have only holds 5 films, and 650 ml of chemicals. That would mean I could only process about 7 films. We were back to bloody expensive again. Ahrg!

Questioning my photographer friend who had given me her old developing machine didn’t help. ‘No, don’t re-use your chemicals, it’ll screw up your color balance!’ To cut a long story short: she was wrong. Maybe if you’re a professional photographer who wants total control over your pictures it’s better to use your chemicals only once, but the average lomographer will get beautiful results after using the chemicals two or three times. And I don’t mean happy-accident-pleasantly-unexpected-color-shift-beautiful either.

Some Precautions

If you process your pictures by hand, you’ll have no problem re-using your chemicals. Just pour them in separate containers. If – like me – you use a processing machine, there are two options. Either your machine can separate the chemicals, or it can’t. This depends on what kind of machine you have (you know what you have, right?). If the first case: no problem. Make sure your chemicals end up in separate containers, and you’re good. In the second case (guess what machine I have…) you’ll have to work a little harder.

My Jobo 1500 pours every chemical through the same hose. First developer, and then bleach/fix (I generally use a two bath process). When you re-use your chemicals, the important thing is to prevent contamination of your developer. If some residue of developer ends up in your bleach/fix, that’s okay, but you don’t want bleach/fix in the developer, it’ll seriously mess with your developer. Since the developer comes first, there won’t be a problem, as long as you rinse the hose first. Pour in a few cups of water, wiggle it about a bit, and pour out the water again. Repeat a few times until the water that comes out is clear. Do the responsible thing and make sure that you keep at least the first batch of water separate from chemical waste. This seems a rather lax way of cleaning, but in my experience, it works.

The next step consists mainly of waiting. The machine will pre-heat everything before the actual processing starts. Unfortunately, how long this takes depends on external factors like the outside temperature, and the temperature of the water from the tap. You’ll just have to keep an eye on the machine. Once the processing starts, you have to be ready with three separate containers. Every time the machine empties a batch of chemicals, wiggle the hose a bit to get as much in your container as possible. I have found that some residue tends to remain, and some fiddling with the hose helps. Don’t fiddle too much though, you have to be ready with your second (or third) container within a few minutes (depending on your particular program).

Keep your chemicals in closed bottles between developing runs, and use them again within a few weeks. The important thing is you keep them in dark, closed bottles. (Though I must admit I’m a lazy slob and keep them in translucent open containers with just a bit of cling foil over them.)

Before using the chemicals again, make sure to clean your hose again.

Here are some pictures developed in two bath Tetanol:

And the same chemicals used a second time:

Here’s a few pictures from the third run of the same chemicals:

It works fine in three bath Rollei as well.

First run:

Photo by stratski

Second run:

written by stratski

4 comments

  1. wilfbiffherb

    wilfbiffherb

    these chemicals are designed to be used multiple times. mix a batch up and process to exhaustion then mix up the next batch. i do my films one by one so i use 259ml for each one. that lasts for 5 films then i mix the next 250ml from the same batch with water and 5 more and so on and so on until youve run out of chem!

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  2. gvelasco

    gvelasco

    +1

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  3. vicuna

    vicuna

    a silly question perhaps, but what do you do once the chemicals are "used", where can you "throw" them away without polluting your environnment? I Use D76 developper for BW and don't know what I'll do with the chemicals once they'll be used after developping some films...?

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  4. stratski

    stratski

    That's not a silly question at all. My town has a recycling station that collects chemical waste as well. They sort it out what is what, and either recycle it (I think it's B&W fixer, for instance, that contains silver that can be re-used) or just make sure it doesn't end up in the ground water or sea or anything. Every town in Holland has a station like that, but I don't know what the situation in French Polynesia is. Try asking your local municipality.

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This is the original article written in: English. It is also available in: Nederlands.