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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!
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  • Gina L. 2 months ago
    I just read this too late. We were moving and came across lots of old photos from many different people. I am not sure with the chaos of the move I would have wanted another box or two. However, I may have made more of an effort for those still closest to us.
  • Audrey N. 2 months ago
    Today
  • Deborah W. 2 months ago
    A great idea. Thanks.
  • Glyn L. 2 months ago
    Do you know those family photos that aren't quite frame-worthy, but you still don't want to get rid of them? I pasted some onto a box and covered it with a clear sealing paint, it was a fun craft project with the kids and made a lovely homemade mother's day gift to my mom. And we get to see the photos frequently without them being tucked away in an album gathering dust.
  • Lucy T. 2 months ago
    When saving physical photos, remember to annotate subject, date, location, etc., on the backs.
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