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Are Photos Recyclable? Alternative Uses & FAQs

Person looking at old photographs

While modern photos that are printed on standard or thick paper can be recycled in the same way as any other paper, photographs that are printed on proper photo paper cannot usually be recycled. Depending on the age and the type of photographic paper, it can be covered in anything from polythene to metal-based coating fluids that are not only non-recyclable but can contaminate the recycling process.

There may be some specialist services that will recycle old photographs, but unless you have a large collection of photos, it is unlikely to be financially or environmentally beneficial to drive them to the recovery center. Upcycling or reusing the photos is one option. Otherwise, they will need to be put in with general waste to be disposed of properly.

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Can Photos Be Recycled?

Black and white photographs
Image Credit By: rodolfo-clix, Pexels

Photographs may look and feel as though they are simply printed on thick paper, but that paper is typically coated with polythene or some other coating agent, some of which contain metals and all of which are non-recyclable. This means that photos printed on photo paper are non-recyclable, although if they are printed on standard paper, you can recycle them in the same way you would newspapers and other paper.

Even modern photo paper is unrecyclable, but apparently, there is no negative environmental effect from sending the paper to a landfill, so old pictures can be put in with general waste for weekly collection.

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The 8 Way Get Rid of Old Photos

Rather than putting old photos in with general waste, there are ways that you can reuse or otherwise dispose of the photos. Below are eight methods of upcycling or reusing your old photo collection.

1. Hand Them Down

Photos of family or events may hold memories for other members of the family, so ask around and see if anybody wants the photos before you get rid of them. Some people love connections to the past and particularly enjoy keeping old photos.

2. Sell Them

It seems unlikely but you might be able to sell your old photos to cardmakers and other crafters. You’re unlikely to get more than a few cents even for a sizable collection, but it might be enough to cover the cost of postage and potentially even enough to replace the photos with new ones.

Old photos
Image Credit: john-barnard, Pexels

3. Give Them Away

Alternatively, if you know somebody that likes to make their own gift cards, collages, or other craft items that would benefit from photo stock, ask if they want your old pictures. There are websites and social media groups where people give away old and seemingly worthless pieces.

4. Create Your Own Artwork

Or you could use the opportunity to turn your own hand to a new craft. Turn family photos into a collage and turn that into a piece of wall art or look for other innovative and unique ways to use your old picture collection.

5. Turn Them into History

Some photos have historical value. Even if your pictures are of family members, they might be appealing to a local museum or heritage society, so consider asking around a local town or speaking to your local council to see if they want the pictures before you throw them away.

Old photos
Image Credit: rodolfo-clix, Pexels

6. Ask Local Schools and Colleges

Schools and colleges might be able to make use of the photos for projects they have underway.

7. Donate Them

Other potential groups and institutions you can give old photos to include art schools and colleges or local craft groups. Speak to retirement homes and hospitals, too. They might need materials for their residents, and it saves you from having to throw the photos in the trash.

8. Upcycle Them into Gift Cards

There are plenty of ways that you can use old photographs, but possibly one of the most common is to turn them into gift cards. Combine a few photos to create something new and send it to a family member or friend.

Person holding a photographs
Image Credit: karolina-grabowska, Pexels

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What About Negatives?

Similarly, negatives cannot be recycled. These will either need to be upcycled or put in the general waste with the original photographs.

Can Leather Photo Albums Be Recycled?

Unfortunately, old leather albums cannot be recycled, either. You might be able to find a new home for leather albums by offering them to friends and family or on social media and other websites.

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Photographs printed on proper photo paper cannot be recycled. They should either be upcycled by turning them into something like a collage or gift cards, or you can give them to family members or consider giving them to schools, colleges, art colleges, or even museums or heritage centers.

Featured Image Credit: karolina-grabowska, Pexels


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