spent fixer poll revisited 3 years later

Discussion in 'B&W: Film, Paper, Chemistry' started by jnanian, Mar 26, 2012.

what do you do with your spent fixer ?

  1. pour down the drain

    29 vote(s)
    46.8%
  2. use metal wool / steel wool / aluminum foil, rusty nails, copper flashing or other materials

    7 vote(s)
    11.3%
  3. leave it out and let it evaporate

    6 vote(s)
    9.7%
  4. use an ion transfer unit / trickle tank

    3 vote(s)
    4.8%
  5. use a silver magnet / electrolytic unit

    13 vote(s)
    21.0%
  6. have a waste hauler take it away

    5 vote(s)
    8.1%
  7. take it to hazmat/household waste day

    11 vote(s)
    17.7%
  8. i have a lab do all my photofinishing

    0 vote(s)
    0.0%
Multiple votes are allowed.
  1. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    it was in 2009 that i made the original poll,
    and i thought it would be interesting to see if things have changed in 3 years ...

    you don't need to identify yourself or post any words in this thread it is just a poll ..


    and if you have another method please feel free to mention it ..

    thanks !
    john
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 26, 2012
  2. Murray Kelly

    Murray Kelly Member

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    Ummmm ... You'd better remind us better than that, J.
     
  3. Vaughn

    Vaughn Subscriber

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    "My" darkroom is at the university -- about 125 students developing film and making prints a semester, as well as myself. Used fixer is the only primary (dev, stop, fix, HCA) photo chemical that our world renown sewer treatment facility does not want down the drain.

    We also have all selenium, dirchromate and ferricyanide compounds shipped off...oh, and Part B of Sepia Toner, also.

    Vaughn
     
  4. hobby boy

    hobby boy Member

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    i just take my used fixer to the college i go to and put it in their chemical waste disposal container. They have the chemicals taken away by a company to get it treated
     
  5. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    The local authorities will not accept it. They also don't specify any rules for hobbyist darkrooms.

    I lack room or an appropriate location for any of the on-site treatment options.

    I do have friends that I have learned recently do use a steel wool treatment option, but they are a 45 minute drive away, so I only deliver it to them when my need for disposal coincides with a visit there.

    If I had the room and the location to permit it, I would buy one of John's "Silver Magnets" in a heartbeat.
     
  6. madgardener

    madgardener Member

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    I called our city's sewer people and asked them, and they told me to just pour it down the drain. It seems weird that they would want the silver dumped down the drain though. Just to be on the safe side however, I just collect it and save it for hazardous waste day.
     
  7. John Shriver

    John Shriver Member

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    All you need is a 2 or 3 liter soda bottle, a ball of steel wool, and you can plate the steel wool with the silver in the fixer. This is what I've been doing for 10 years, nothing exotic. I add some steel wool each time I retire another half gallon of fixer, and the remains of the previous batch go down the drain. Someday I'll do something with the residue, perhaps give it to a local photo lab that already recycles. Must be a few dollars worth of silver in there.
     
  8. Doremus Scudder

    Doremus Scudder Member

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    I used to take my spent fixer to a local photo lab that would then put it through their silver-recovery unit. That was a great solution. Since then, the lab is gone and there are no other options locally with silver recovery.

    So, I tried the hazmat route: I took gallons of accumulated used fixer to the local hazmat facility (Bend, OR). I explained to them it was used photographic fixer and should go to silver recovery. The goons working their just labeled it "used photo chemicals" and sent it God knows where. I'm fairly sure it didn't get to any kind of silver-recovery unit. Who knows what they do with it. I doubt it ends up being any better than just pouring it down the drain.

    So, why bother...

    My darkroom is connected to a septic tank system, but where I live is on the municipal sewer system. I now just take my used fix and dump it at home into the municipal sewer. I hope the 10 gallons or so I dump every six months is not a problem.

    If I ever find a lab that will take it and recover the silver from it, I'll go back to doing that.

    Best,

    Doremus

    www.DoremusScudder.com
     
  9. Mike Wilde

    Mike Wilde Member

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    I bottle it in well labelled surplus 2l soda bottles and take it to the HHW site if there is another reason to visit there; it is a 20km round trip in a direction I don't head off to very often when they are open.

    If there is not a reason to go and the fixer bottles are starting to pile up in the warmer months I evaporate it down to a crusty sludge. 4L takes about 3 weeks in the best sunny late sprong weather for me.

    RA-4 Blix is the bigger hassle for me. It gets dehydrated too, mut is much ickyer to tidy up after.

    zapped out toners get moderately dehudrated and handed in at HHW, or just handed in fully wet.
     
  10. Worker 11811

    Worker 11811 Member

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    I dump all my used fixer into a 5 gallon bucket. All my film scraps, test strips and junk prints go into the fixer bucket.
    After several weeks, most of the silver is removed from the film and paper. There is only a light brown, "ghost" image left.

    Using rubber gloves, I remove the paper and film, put it in garbage bags and throw it out with the trash. I strain the saturated fixer then use a Silver Magnet to remove as much silver as I can. (Last time I ran it, I recovered almost an ouce of silver from 2 1/2 gallons of fixer.)

    The left over, dead fixer is stored in plastic milk jugs until Haz-Mat Amnesty Day. I scan the label off the fixer bottle into my computer, print it out and stick a copy onto each of the bottles before turning them in. Things like selenium and sepia toner get dumped in jugs and turned in to Haz-Mat Day, as well.

    In two years, I have generated about five gallons of waste that can't be flushed down the drain. All of it has been or will be turned in for collection.
     
  11. Maris

    Maris Member

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    I've had the luck to enjoy a career in scientific research and analytical chemistry before taking up photography full time. One of my challenges was teaching chemists at the local water supply and sewerage department about photographic chemicals in the effluent they had to treat. Of course I had an agenda. I wanted building approval for a house with sizeable darkroom in it. They did said yes to my plans.

    The following does not apply to industrial scale photo materials manufacturing or a major processing lab, only households connected to a sewer line or a proper septic system:

    Developers are mild reducing agents that oxidise rapidly to inert components. The BOD (Biological Oxygen Demand) challenge offered by a darkroom is much smaller than the BOD from a dishwasher, in-sink garbage disposal unit, or a toilet.

    Stop bath is a very mild acid that has no measurable effects on highly buffered systems like septic tanks or sewerage treatment plants.

    In moderate quantities (pounds, not tons) silver tetrathionate and similar compounds which characterise used fixer don't harm sewerage treatment systems. The silver very quickly gets converted to silver sulphide in the presence of the free sulphide ion (smells like rotten eggs!). Silver sulphide is geologically stable and inert and has one of the lowest solubility products known in chemistry. The stability and inertness of silver sulphide is the key to the remarkable archival properties of sepia toned photographs.

    Before my darkroom was approved by my local council I had to calculate the silver concentration in my total household effluent. I'm pretty busy and use a few thousand sheets of film and paper per year but the result came to about 5 parts per billion. By the time this mixes with the output of the other 20 000 households in my area that don't process photographic materials the silver concentration is below any conceivable detection limit down at the sewerage treatment plant.

    You can do your own calculations. Just calculate your yearly use of silver from your photographic materials consumption and divide this by your yearly water consumption from the water meter.

    The world being what it is many local effluent standards are written by lawyers and/or accountants who don't know a dot of chemistry but know about culpability and lawsuits. If you encounter such local regulations and you want to ask permission I guess you have to do what they say.
     
  12. nworth

    nworth Subscriber

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    Thiosulfates and sulfites, the main constituents of fixers, are pretty innocuous. Pouring them down the drain is usually quite acceptable. But in a darkroom that does a lot of work, like a college darkroom, reclaiming the silver dissolved in spent fixer can be very significant. Such places almost always use some means of extracting the silver before discarding the other stuff, or they send their spent fixer to a contract reclamation firm for $.
     
  13. Vaughn

    Vaughn Subscriber

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    Maris, stop being so bloody reasonable!:D
     
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  15. Worker 11811

    Worker 11811 Member

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    By the way...

    Kodak Publication J-300 - "Environmental Guidelines for Amateur Photographers."
    http://www.kodak.com/global/en/corp/environment/kes/pubs/pdfs/j300.pdf

    Summary:
    • Developers and wash agents may be discharged to municipal sewer systems in moderate quantities without fear of harm.
    • Acid stop baths may be discharged if neutralized with sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) first.
    • Fixers may be discharged AFTER silver has been removed.
    • Exotics such as Selenium should NOT be discharged.

    I take the extra step of turning in my spent fixer after desilvering but I don't neutralize stop bath so, according to Kodak's recommendation, I guess I'm about on par or a little above.

    [Runs to the kitchen to find the baking soda.]
     
  16. jscott

    jscott Member

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    I took a workshop from a famous photographer and ardent environmentalist who told us that darkroom chemicals are chemically similar to chemical fertilizer, so collect them and spread them on your lawn. I asked about selenium being a poison and he refuted that as if there was no truth to it. I know that in our workshop a fair volume of stuff went right down the drain, presumably into the unconfined river floodplain aquifer (I'm a geologist by training).

    So that's the word from a lefty tree hugger photog (the teacher, not me) who spends much of his time and money fighting land development in western Washington State.
     
  17. Vaughn

    Vaughn Subscriber

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    But if one uses stop bath until the indicator turns purple, does not that mean it is already neutralized?

    Vaughn
     
  18. Newt_on_Swings

    Newt_on_Swings Member

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    At home, I dump the fixer, usually 1-2 liter bottles, down the drain. My volumne as of recently had decreased a lot at home since I havent had much time at all.

    At work, the fixer is collected in large marked containers that are taken out once they fill up by whatever hazmat/recovery people maintenance calls up.

    At home, I mark off the number of rolls I fix per liter (max of 24, 36exp rolls in rapid fix) and test paper fixer with hypo check. At work I only use hypo check on fixer to text exhaustion.
     
  19. Worker 11811

    Worker 11811 Member

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    I suppose that's true but isn't it a lot more fun to watch it fizz? :wink:

    Seriously, I reuse stop bath for the duration of the session or if I think I'll be developing or printing soon but, otherwise, I dump it.
     
  20. Roger Cole

    Roger Cole Member

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    Neutralize stop bath?

    Do you neutralize salad dressing before you pour it down the drain? Working strength stop bath is about as acidic as a 1+1 dilution of vinegar. In fact you can just use white vinegar 1+1 with water if you want, or run out of stop bath and have vinegar.
     
  21. Peter de Groot

    Peter de Groot Member

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    Thanks to this thread I don't feel guilty anymore when dumping the chemicals down the drain. But then again I didn't feel guilty in the first place.
     
  22. bdial

    bdial Subscriber

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    I'm on a septic system, on the advice of one of the chemists here, I neutralize my stop with baking soda.

    I also neutralize the vinegar I use to de-lime my electric teakettle.
    For the fix, I de-silver it, and take what remains to the hazmat collection center.
     
  23. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    there used to be an active member here who claimed selenium was harmless
    because trace amounts were found in multi vitamins and in sea water ...

    a company called ITRONICS in nevada reclaims photochemistry from all over the west coast
    and converts it to fertilizer .. they remove the bad-bits first though ...
     
  24. Worker 11811

    Worker 11811 Member

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    Something I thought about last night as I was developing two rolls of Tri-X: When I pour stop bath down the drain it turns a little bit purple because of some of the remaining developer I just poured down the drain, 45 seconds ago.

    Therefore, doesn't it stand to reason that the developer is neutralizing the stop bath? It would naturally be getting neutralized inside the J-trap before it ever gets to the sewer. Wouldn't it?

    Further, if you wanted to make sure the stop bath was neutralized, you could pour developer and stop into a plastic tub, allowing them to neutralize before dumping the whole volume down the drain.

    Problem solved, I suppose... Right? :smile:
     
  25. Doremus Scudder

    Doremus Scudder Member

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    Randy,

    If you read J-300 more carefully, you'll see that the Kodak recommendation to neutralize stop baths is for their undiluted concentrate (which is almost pure acid), not for the working solution. The document is not nearly as clear about this as it could be. Dumping used (especially well used) stop down the drain should be no problem. However, one can easily neutralize both stop and developer to a degree by mixing them together before discarding as you note. This is pretty easy to do for printing sessions, since they both have about the same lifespan. When the developer or stop dies, just mix the two together and dump. Even if you don't neutralize, using copious amounts of water will dilute either to just about neutral really fast.

    Maris,

    Good to know all the details. I suspected as much about the silver in fixer, but never knew the details.

    Perhaps those of you who take their fixer to a hazmat facilitly could comment on my concern, which is that the hazmat people don't really know what to do with used fixer. The guys I dropped my used fixer off to had no idea what silver recovery was and treated the used fixer as if it were highly toxic (rubber gloves and masks!). Some spilled in the back of my truck and they seemed horrified that I just wiped it up with a grease rag and rinsed it with water. If I though that my used fix would get the silver extracted from it and recycled, I would certainly take the time to make the trip to the hazmat facility every so often. I just don't think it does. I'm still looking for a lab or college darkroom that has a silver-recovery unit.

    As for selenium toner, I've been on my soapbox here enough lately about replenishment instead of discarding lately that anyone interested in what I do can easily find it with a search. I never discard selenium toner.

    Best,

    Doremus

    www.DoremusScudder.com
     
  26. Worker 11811

    Worker 11811 Member

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    I peeled the label off one of my old bottles of Kodafix concentrate, scanned it and keep the file on my hard drive.
    When I take a bottle to the hazmat place, I print out that label and stick it on the jug with packing tape. I also print out the MSDS and stick it through the handle of the jug when I drop it off. Haven't had any questions yet. In fact, they seem to think I'm the one being a fussbudget.

    Remove the silver from your fixer using a Silver Magnet. It's just a little plastic box with holes in it to let the liquid in. Inside the box are a sheet of metal foil and a long rod shaped electrode. You get a little "wall wart" electrical transformer that connects to a cord coming out of the plastic box. You plug it in, drop it in your fixer bucket and leave it alone for a few days. There are two LEDs on the transformer. A red and a green. At first, the green one lights. After the silver is removed from the liquid, the red light starts to glow. That's how you know you're done. Dump/recycle the desilvered fixer. Wash off the Silver Magnet cell with clear water, dry it and put it away for the next time you want to use it.

    The first time I used the Silver Magnet, it took a little over a week to pull all the silver out of 2-1/2 gallons of used fixer. I weighed it before putting it to use. It weighed a hair over 75 grams. When I pulled it out, it weighed almost 100 grams. That's 25 grams or 0.9 ounces of silver I got back. Right now, the price of silver is hovering at around $30 to $32 per ounce. At the rate I'm going, one more use will have paid for the Silver Magnet but the cell won't nearly be full. I think I should be able to get ten uses out of it before it gets full.

    When it finally gets full, my Silver Magnet will have paid for itself five times over.