X-Ray Film Scanners and Digitizers, X-Ray Film Scanning Services and Software

How and Why to Recycle X-Ray Film

posted Jul-10-2014

With today’s emphasis on “going green” as well as HIPAA requirements for patient privacy, recycling old X-ray film is a must. Add to this the fact that nearly all medical diagnostics today are digital, old X-ray film should be converted to digital, if the images need to be saved, and then safely disposed of.

4189447228_c439f1d72f_z_smallWhy Recycle X-ray Film?

X-ray film has two main ingredients: PET plastic and silver. According to the EPA, plastics such as PET plastic play an important role in almost every aspect of our lives. Plastics are used to manufacture everyday products such as beverage containers, toys, and furniture. In fact, 32 million tons of plastic waste were generated in 2012. This widespread use of plastics demands proper end of life management. Since PET plastic is in X-ray film, the EPA provides guidelines for proper disposal of X-ray film.

The silver in X-ray film is also bad for the environment. It is a heavy metal, so it is dangerous to plants, fish and animals, including humans. If X-ray film ends up in landfills, where it is exposed to the elements the silver is slowly leached out by rainwater, and eventually ends up in the groundwater. From there it can move into streams, rivers, and eventually the ocean. Silver can also contaminate the soil, where it is drawn up into plants and consumed by animals. Silver is classified as one of the top-eight-most-dangerous metals identified in the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

So, in a nutshell, there are three important reasons for recycling X-ray film:

Recovery of the separate materials – this includes the paper contained in the covering envelopes and any other documentation that accompanies the X-rays; the PET plastic of the actual films; and, the silver.

Secure disposal of patient information – because of HIPAA regulations, there are steps that are legally required for proper disposal and destruction of x-ray films. Once properly disposed, the necessary materials can be recycled.

Salvaging the silver – The silver used in X-ray film production has traditionally represented approximately a fifth of all this metal used worldwide. Today, silver is also used extensively in high-tech industries. Because of this high use, silver is becoming more scarce. So, in addition to the negative effects that leached silver can have on the environment, proper recycling of this precious metal is essential to preventing a potential shortage.

So, you’re convinced that X-ray film needs to be recycled – now the question is how to go about it.

How to Recycle X-ray film

There are companies that specialize in the safe recycling of X-ray film. They not only dispose of the film in accordance with the EPA guidelines, but they also follow the HIPAA requirements for protecting patient confidentiality.

First the X-rays are separated from other accompanying documents, such as paper envelopes. To protect the patient’s privacy, these accompanying documents are shredded, then recycled.

These X-ray recyclers feed the X-Ray film into a grinder where they are diced into smaller pieces, which renders the film unreadable. No one can put those small pieces back together, to view the X-ray. The diced X-ray film is then washed to recover the silver from the X-ray and protect the environment. The X-ray film is separated into silver and plastic, and the plastic components are sent to recycling. The silver is further extracted, purified, and finally sent to a silver vendor.

When you use an X-ray recycling firm, all you will need to do is box your X-rays up and either send them to the recycler or arrange to have them picked up.   We recommend the following guidelines for proper handling of the X-ray film:

Carefully place all of the X-ray films and other documents into a large box for transport. Do not separate out any of the materials that go with the X-rays, since these may also need to be disposed of according to HIPAA regulations.

When handling the X-ray film, hold by the edges to limit your exposure to the chemicals and metals on the film. Better yet, wear latex gloves while handling the X-ray film.

Wash your hands when you finish handling the X-ray film, because the film contains silver halide, which is toxic.

When handled this way, X-ray film recycling can be both easy and beneficial. Get those old medical records out of your office or storage room to make room for newer digital modalities and receive payment for the silver collected.


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