Sustainability in Photography

Innovations in the field of technical equipment have been crackling for a long time in ever shorter periods of time – not only in photography. So much is possible in general and we can buy something for all of these possibilities. Spoken for our profession: Cell phones with more and more built-in lenses and cameras, drones, digital and analog cameras, instant cameras, disposable cameras – a seemingly endless list of manufacturers is constantly expanding its segment. In addition, there are accessories such as tripods, filters, bags, belts and small devices with a wide variety of advantages.

Disadvantages are rarely spoken of when it comes to new acquisitions. One disadvantage that I see and observe, however, is not the new acquisition itself, but rather the frequency of new acquisitions and what can be related to them. Because some things do not only weigh a lot in terms of money. But also in the form of waste products 3 that they leave behind, or in relation to the production and recycling backgrounds.

The increased consumption and use of new technologies has assumed immense proportions. Their future foreseeable increase in use as well as information on recycling can be found, for example, at the Fraunhofer Institute under the heading “Raw materials for future technologies”.

The separation of highly complex material composites, such as those implemented in integrated circuits, and the recovery of the valuable materials they contain place the highest demands on recycling technology, which are currently often not yet achieved for technical or economic reasons.

In many African and Asian countries, the recycling of electronic waste is carried out without environmental and occupational safety precautions and with very low recovery rates. Large amounts of European electronic waste also get there through illegal transport. Over 60% of scrap is not properly recycled due to incorrect disposal and illegal export.

I’m sure you know photo series such as those by Pieter Hugo, which show people at collection points for electronic waste, or pictures by Kai Löffelbein, who deal with this very subject and for which he also wrote the book “Ctrl-X. A topography of e-waste” published by the Steidl publishing house. People can be seen there repairing old devices or untangling cables without any protective equipment – it can probably be assumed that little or nothing has changed in these conditions. Which ultimately affects all of us or should make us affected.

In addition, responsibilities in dealing with plastic waste generally shifted at the beginning of this year: China, which also purchases waste from Germany, no longer accepts imports of plastic waste from the EU, for example 4. So sustainable action (in photography and beyond) means producing as little waste as possible in the first place. This also includes packaging waste from new acquisitions and orders.