Don’t throw out X-rays! Protect patients’ privacy and the environment by responsibly recycling them.

xrays.jpg Doctors, dentists and other medical professionals: Do not put your old X-rays in the trash! You may not know it, but you are sitting on a gold mine – or, more accurately, a silver mine. Here is a little-known fact: Every X-ray is coated with a substance that contains silver. Once you are done with your X-rays, that silver is fully recoverable and very valuable. It is definitely in your best interest to recycle your old X-rays when you no longer need them. Not only is it the right thing to do for your wallet and the environment, medical privacy laws require that X-rays be disposed of in a manner that preserves patient privacy. Recycling is one of the best ways to do that. We share several resources for recycling old X-rays.
 

Why do X-rays contain silver?

An X-ray is similar to a light wave, but it has a different wave length and other characteristics that make it invisible to the human eye. The simplest explanation for how an X-ray machine works is that is passes X-rays through the body and onto a piece of plastic coated with a gel. That gel contains silver, which is very sensitive to light. When the X-ray hits the plastic it causes a molecular change in the silver and causes it to create an image. That picture cannot be seen with the naked eye, but it can be seen after a “developing” process (similar to the way photographers used to develop film). Once the image is developed, doctors have a picture of a person’s bones. For a more complete explanation of how X-ray machines create images, check out this article on How Stuff Works. X-rays were first discovered by a German physicist named Wilhelm Roentgen in 1895. Within months of his discovery doctors were using rudimentary X-ray machines to look at broken bones in hospitals and on battlefields. Today X-ray machines are also used in airports to inspect passengers and their luggage for dangerous items, and to examine machinery for flaws. X-rays are not the only medical images that have silver. MRIs, CTs and mammograms also contain the valuable precious metal. Modern X-ray machines, especially those used by dentists, can transfer images to computers rather than film. Machines that do this give off less radiation, meaning they are safer for patients, and make it is quicker and easier for technicians to receive the images. This new technology should decrease the stacks of old X-rays sitting around medical offices in the future. For people who do not have those machines or who only got them recently, however, their stacks of X-rays must be dealt with in a responsible manner.

Why recycle X-rays?

Recycling X-rays is a good idea because you can earn money doing it. Silver is an extremely valuable metal, and some recyclers are willing to play or split their profits with companies that provide them with X-rays. Silver is also a finite resource, and mining it is damaging to the environment. The longer humans can continue to use the silver they have already discovered, the better. That means we need to recycle it whenever possible. Silver can make people sick or even kill them if it is ingested in large quantities. The metal can damage your eyes, skin, lungs and kidneys. Extreme overexposure to silver can send people into comas or even cause death. Something that can do that much damage to humans and animals does not belong in a landfill or an incinerator. Medical practices have another very important reason to recycle X-rays. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) requires that X-rays be destroyed in order to protect patient privacy. Doctors, dentists, radiologists and others must be able to demonstrate to regulatory agencies that they have permanently disposed of these potentially sensitive medical records. One of the best ways to ensure X-rays are completely unreadable is to recycle them.

How to recycle X-rays

B.W. Recycling in Hallandale, Florida, is one example of a company that can recycle your old X-rays and other medical films. The company picks up film anywhere in the United States for no charge and also provides cash back for the silver it extracts. The process destroys X-rays to HIPAA standards. People with small amounts of X-ray film – especially scraps that do not contain an image – can send their material to the company through the mail. B.W. Recycling’s website provides a great description of how the X-rays get recycled. The films are washed in a chemical solution that separates out the silver. The silver is melted and turned into bars, which the company then sells to a vendor. After the silver has been removed, what is left is a piece of PET plastic that can be recycled. If the film is picked up in paper envelopes, the envelopes are also recycled. X-ray Film Recycling, another X-ray recycling company, has a video on its website that details the process it uses. The company chips the X-rays into flakes before dunking them in a solution to remove the silver. Nexcut Shredding specializes in paper shredding for sensitive documents, but it can also take X-rays for recycling. Working with Nexcut gives you the opportunity to deal with paper medical records and X-rays with one phone call.