Over 5 years ago my office went digital for x-rays. This means that when we take an X ray, the image is picked up by a sensor which is stored in the computer and can be viewed on the computer screen or even on the television in the room. It’s really nice, and I think I can see the teeth much better.
I have been going through charts that are over 10 years old without having seen the patient during this time.  Old dental records eventually get destroyed (in accordance with regulation).   In the patient records are lots of x-rays and these will also have to be destroyed.

What is an x-ray film made of?

The base is made of cellulose acetate or cellulose nitrate, or more recently polyethylene teraphthalate. These products are flexible and can be handled easily. It supports a gelatin emulsion with silver halide crystals which are embedded in the emulsion. The radiation strikes the film and moves the silver in such a way as to give an image that can be seen on the x-ray assisting with the diagnois of a medical or dental condition.

With society’s increased awareness of the environment and pollution, the silver is a pollutant which needs special handling. There are companies which will take the x-rays and extract the silver. Typically the business which provides the x-rays will receive some money from the silver retrieved. I don’t think it will be a significant amount, but it’s worthwhile for the office to dispose of the material appropriately.