Everyday enviro with Elise: the gold in your old X-rays

Everyday enviro with Elise: the gold in your old X-rays

By Elise Catterall  February 10th, 2021

You might know that X-rays should be kept out of kerbside recycling but do you know why (and how) they should be recycled?


I recently wrote a piece that discussed recycled silver and gold and mentioned that one source of silver was from the recycling of X-rays and other medical films, which contain silver in the form of halides.

You probably know that X-rays and other medical films can’t be recycled in your kerbside recycling, but they can, and should, be recycled.

Before we look at the how, let’s look at the why. The main reason for recycling X-rays is to salvage the silver. Silver is used for so much more than jewellery, which was the focus of my last post; it is also a critical component of a range of technologies, especially medical and electrical. And because of the demand for it, it is still regularly sourced through mining.

As we all pretty well understand these days, anything that needs to be extracted from the earth is a problem and mining has been shown to cause a range of environmental issues, including (as listed by the American Geosciences Institute): physical disturbances to the landscape primarily due to rock waste as part of the mine workings; soil and water contamination due to mobilisation of metals in waste rock, slag production from smelting, and acid seepage; and air contamination from smelting. Then there are the human safety and ethics issues associated with mining. Nothing good to see here.

Beyond that doozy of a reason, we also don’t want films (or anything) going into landfill if it can be avoided. And it’s actually super easy to avoid it. Your first option is to just return your films to your radiologist. It’s pretty standard practice for them to accept any films – whether they did the imaging or not. They just ask that you remove any paperwork before you hand them over.

Your next option is to check out Planet Ark’s Recycling Near You directory. You just pop in your postcode and then select X-ray films from the list of materials and you’ll find a list of drop off points close to you — locations range from recycling centres to scout halls. In most cases, the films will go to Siltech (you can also post your films directly to Siltech — check out the Recycling Near You directory for their address) or CMA EcoCycle. Once there, the X-rays go through a refinery to extract the silver at temperatures of over 1000 degrees. The extracted silver is converted into a purer form of the metal that is able then to be used for a range of purposes.

So, if you are like me — that is, really clumsy — and have a stack of films that you don’t need to hold onto for medical reasons, it couldn’t be easier to give them (or at least part of them) a new life.

Positive Environment News has been compiled using publicly available information. Planet Ark does not take responsibility for the accuracy of the original information and encourages readers to check the references before using this information for their own purposes.


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Elise Catterall

Elise is a writer, photographer, and naturopath with a passion for nature. She completed a Master of Public Health in 2017 through the University of Sydney. Her photographic work focuses on flowers and plants as a way of celebrating nature. She has been writing for Planet Ark since 2017, sharing positive environment stories, personal environmental experiences and perspectives.

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