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Because You Asked

Because You Asked: Can I Recycle Old Photographs?

By Recyclebank |
A hard drive full of photos is one thing; a shoebox full of prints is another. Here’s what you need to know about keeping them from going to waste.

Dear Recyclebank: Are photographs recyclable? –Terry L.

Dear Terry:
Photographs are fond reminders of good times, but they can pile up and get out of control before you know it. Digital photography has certainly simplified storage in some ways, but most households still have boxes of photos lying around from the days of film cameras.

While photographs are primarily a paper product, they can’t always be thrown in the bin. The traditional photographic process suffuses paper with chemicals, making them a potential contamination hazard for an entire batch of recycling. Not all photographic prints are off-limits, though. Many newer prints created from digital files don’t require chemicals for development and can be treated as glossy paper (like you’d find in magazines) for recycling purposes. If your handler accepts mixed paper, newer prints are probably safe to recycle. If you don’t know the photo’s age or composition, or if it doesn’t tear like normal paper, err on the side of caution and don’t recycle it.

If your old photos can’t be recycled, what can you do with them? It’s simple: Reuse them! With the holidays on the way, there are any number of ways you can repurpose these family treasures to spread joy. Sentimental family members will love a well-curated photo album or a handmade collage. You can even make postcards to send to loved ones.

If any of the pictures are of historical interest, you also may want to consider contacting your local historical society to see if they’d like a donation. Give those memories a chance to live on!

How do you keep your photo memories alive outside a shoebox? Let us know in the comments!
Share with Your Friends & Family
  • Nancy A. 9 days ago
    Scan into computer
  • Jama B. 10 days ago
    Friendships that last a lifetime saved in photos makes for 1,000s of photos. While downsizing, I made collections of friend photos including every photo tied to their family and mailed to them. This way, they can now give pics to grands or great-grands who enjoy seeing themselves or the "old folks".
  • ANGEL K. 1 month ago
    I think the best use of recycled photographs was seeing it made into wallpaper in black and white.....It was absolutely gorgeous.
  • Sue C. 1 month ago
    Great post. I never thought to recycle any photos though. I like keeping those mementos. You brought to my attention how different photos are processed these days from decades ago. What a change.
  • Jennifer S. 1 month ago
    I see a lot of people at tag sales and flea markets collect old photos now. I think it is sad that peoples lives end up that way. There has to be someone that the photos could be passed down to. If you are not sentimental, pass the photos on to others in your family, never throw such priceless family heirlooms away.
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