Publication Date

Spring 2011

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Environmental Studies


Katherine K. Cushing


Climate Change, Digital Camera, Film, Minilab, Photography, Photoprocessing

Subject Areas

Sustainability; Energy; Water Resource Management


Consumer digital cameras appeared on the market in 1994. Consequently, the photoprocessing industry experienced a downturn beginning in 2000, with a sudden drop in activity. This study focuses on the evolution of the retail photoprocessing industry between 1996 and 2006 and evaluates its four major environmental impacts: (1) energy use, (2) associated greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), (3) silver discharge, and (4) water consumption. The main method used for data analysis is based on the ISO 14040 standard for Life Cycle Assessment. The study utilizes data from: (a) impact quantification for two photoprocessing labs in Santa Clara County, and (b) a census of retail photoprocessing labs in Palo Alto Regional Water Quality Control Plant (RWQCP) service area, based on wastewater permits. The analysis indicates that the changes in the activity of local retail photoprocessors correspond to a 43% reduction in energy consumption, a 69% reduction in GHG emissions, a 71% reduction in silver discharge, and a 68% decrease in water consumption. However, concurrent changes in the way people consume photography indicate that county-level reductions in energy use and GHG associated emissions have been displaced due to increased use of other electronic devices, like digital cameras.