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by Terry Staler

I just finished a print run in my darkroom. I am about to dump the chemicals down the drain. But wait, I think, I'm going to destroy the environment if I do this. I hesitate. But I go ahead and dump it, and I do it with no guilt. How has this happened?

No, I am not a dispicable, poison-the-earth kind of person. In fact, I am very aware of what my actions my do to the people and the land I live with. But I have a plan, one that allows me to have a guilt-free and relatively environmentally-sound darkroom.

There are several factors that one must consider when contimplating pollution. One of these factors is the relative level of pollution one is releasing upon the world. Dumping 10,000 gallons of a material is unconscienable. But what about 32 ozs of a relatively benign material, which is mostly water, no more often then once or twice a week?

Secondly, consider the total number of darkroom practitioners. Compared to the total hourly flow of water through a sewer system, the volume contributed by these people is infintisimal.

However, despite the very low quantities of effluent that are generated in the home darkroom, it is still important to minimize the impact of every drop of material that enters the environment. How to do this?

I have adopted several steps that allow me to minimize my impact. They are:

1. USE 'EM UP. The common principle in darkrooms is to use each chemical once, then dump it. I can understand the rational behind this; chemicals are cheap and you always want a fresh batch to produce consistant results. But let's look at this issue differently. Fixer and stop bath do not readily oxidize, and there are tests to indicate when the solutions are exhausted. You do not, however, want to use these solutions to exhaustion, because, if you do, your last 5 prints will be brown mush in one year. The secret....use a quick water rinse after the developer and before the stop bath (the stop bath will then last forever) and use the 2 bath fixing method, where the 2nd fixing bath is relatively fresh and becomes the first fixing bath after a certain number of prints.

Also, keeping track of the number of prints processed will be a guide as to the need to replace or replenish chemicals. The Kodak darkroom guide book provides detailed data on this, for both paper and film.

2. STORE 'EM. I have discovered a method for greatly extending the life of chemicals; a cold lack of oxygen. I have stored both black and white and color developer in the refrigerator, in a plastic bottle with ALL of the air squeezed out, for 4 months. They did not discolor, and the prints that resulted from their use were identical to prints made when the chemicals were fresh. Please realize that these are chemicals that I would have thrown out after EACH darkroom session, and they can now be used over a period of several months. I have not had any evidence of re-crytallization of any of the chemicals. The nicest factor with this method of storage is that I can make one print, if so desired, without mixing any chemicals; just take them out of the refrigerator the night before.

Another conserving trick is useful if you will be using your darkroom over a period of several days and you are using trays. After you are finshed for the day, lay a sheet of Saran Wrap type plastic on top of each tray of chemicals. The plastic wrap will instantly conform to the surface of the chemical in the tray and all traces of air will be removed. I have been able to use Dektol developer for 3 consecutive days using this technique.

One final note. It is suggested that these techniques NOT be used for film developers. It is not worth taking the chance that a roll (or rolls) of film will be ruined because of a weak developer. Instead, use the Kodak guide to indicate when developer must be replaced or replensihed based on the number of rolls or sheets developed.