Can You Recycle Photos? (And 9 Ways to Reuse Old Photos)

Photos have become an essential part of human lives. Families have photographs collated in photo albums. Others hung on walls to share and remind themselves of good times.

Photos are particularly capable of sparking emotions within us. They are reflections of the different stages of our lives, capturing our experiences so that when we see them, they remind us of them.

But as good as photos are; however, some of them become irrelevant as time goes by, and some may even fade away.

This, to many people, is always a painful occurrence as they can no longer connect to the memories the photos bring.  When this happens, they are left with the options of piling them up and getting rid of them.

But, does this signify an end to the photos? For instance, what happens when you have many piled up old photos you want to get rid of? Do they all just go into the waste bin? Can photos be recycled? How can they be recycled? Are there other uses for old photos?

All these are valid questions that need appropriate answers; that is why we have decided to answer all those questions in this post. You will find the answers you have been looking for and much other relevant information. From the look of things, it appears you have a lot to gain from this post. So, why not sit back and enjoy the ride?

Old snaps

Are Photos Recyclable?

Unfortunately, old paper photos cannot be recycled. Photos contain coatings and protectors, which include plastics and metals; components that makes them unsafe for recycling.

You might think that photos are made from paper and can be recycled together with glossy magazine papers. No one would blame you for thinking they are papers. After all, they are indeed papers, but with some other materials that can’t be recycled.

Combining the recyclable papers with the non-recyclable materials yields a resulting product that can’t be recycled. So yes, photos aren’t recyclable as most people think.

Besides, many chemicals are used to make photo paper so that images can be put on it. While that’s fine, the problem is that these chemicals can be toxic to the environment and cannot be recycled together with normal paper.

Yet, photo papers are coated with thin layers of silver, mercury, and other chemicals to allow water resistance and speed drying. These coatings on photo paper-primarily pose a problem, not only to living things, they make recycling them a huge problem.  These are the reason many old photos cannot be recycled.

However, modern photo papers may be recycled because they are created from digital files (this depends on the type of paper used and the printing process involved).

There is no silver or harmful materials on them, only printer ink. This state of things makes them fit for recycling. Regardless, you have to be sure that your recycling company accepts any photo paper before throwing them in the recycling bin. This is because not all local recycling stations have started accepting modern photo papers for recycling.

To know if your photos are recyclable, tear them in half. If it doesn’t tear at all or there’s no clean tear, you cannot recycle it. This is due to the plastic and silver coatings on the paper.  If it is easy to tear and feels more like paper, you can relax and be sure it is recyclable.

Photo negatives

Are Photo Negatives Recyclable?

Negatives are made from plastic film, so they are not acceptable for recycling — at least not to their original features. If negative photos are to be recycled, they can only be recycled so that they won’t take their original features and positions. They could be ground and included in the recycling process for the making of plastics.

If you have photos older than a decade and half or so, chances are that they have negatives attached to them. Well, these negatives were result of passing light through the lens of a camera.

During this process, the film’s chemicals worked by affecting the light to darken the film that captures the images. This, in turn, became your photograph on your photo negatives.

But now that negatives are things of the past, its easy to wonder whether or not they can be recycled.

The answer — yes and no!

To start with the negative part, you can’t recycle them to retain the features of they originally had. On the affirmative side, they’re recyclable considering they’re plastic in nature.

However, ensure that you contact your recycling center to know whether they handle the type of plastic used for negatives. Most recycling center only handle a few types of plastic.

Can You Put Photographs in the Recycling Bin?

Photographic processes involve a lot of chemicals which is put on photo paper to coat it. These chemicals remain on the report on the photographs. This, in turn, poses a recycling challenge.

True, the paper is recycled to make new paper, but it is impossible to recycle photo papers because of the many chemicals it is coated with. The chemicals can reduce the quality of recycled papers.

Thankfully, the advent of digital photography has made many of these recycling problems a thing of the past. Photo data can now be printed and saved without chemical processing because digital cameras use a select sensor to capture and digitize light.

This means there’s no need to use all those harmful materials to produce photos. As a result of this, photo papers become more like magazines since they are printed on glossy paper using printers that do not demand chemical treatments.

Since modern-day photos are made without chemical processes, it is safe to put them in the recycle bin. But to be sure, if your photo paper doesn’t rip apart clearly like a magazine paper, it is polluted with photographic materials. It is therefore not safe for recycling. It is advisable not to put older photos in the recycle bin; it is rather best to reuse them.

If you are wondering how to do this, relax; we have got you covered. In the next segment, we provide nine amazing ways to reuse your old photos and negatives.

9 Amazing Ways to Reuse Old Photos and Negatives

Now you know that those old photos you want to get rid of are not environmentally friendly, and you seem stuck. There’s a box load of old photos, and you’re wondering what you can do with them since they cannot be recycled.

Hold on, don’t throw them in your basement to spend their unrecyclable years there. There are a lot of things you can do with them. These are 9 ways to reuse old photos and negatives.

1. Donate

If your photos are historical or are not personal, they can be donated to schools or organizations. Historical societies might appreciate pictures that tell stories about the war or some historical event. This way, those memories live on.

These pictures can also be donated to different libraries for memory’s sake. In the present age of research, these are going to be of great value to society. Also, the pictures can be perfectly stored in personal and family libraries or reserves.

2. Make Postcards

It is the holiday season, and it is a perfect time to put those old photos to use. Write a lovely message on the prints, and send them off to your loved ones.

3. Jewelry

You can make earrings, necklaces, or bracelets from your old photos. You can then give them as gifts to your family and friends. Cut out the images of yourself or loved ones and make a pendant. This can be a very thoughtful gift.  You can sell them in thrift stores. Also, unused photos can be used in craft making and artworks.

4. Personalize Business Cards

Spice up your business cards by personalizing them with old photos. Cut your photos to fit your business cards, but be careful not to block out any important information. This is a great idea, as it may help develop a close relationship between you and your client.

5. Pass Them On

Before you dispose of your old photos, find out if any family member or close associates need them for something. They may be useful to them. This will also encourage the reservation of memorable periods.

6. Birthday Cards or Gift Tags

Instead of buying expensive birthday cards (that would end up in the bin in no time), you can reuse your old photos and create something peculiar for your loved ones.

Unexpected photographs sent to others would be well appreciated. A person who doesn’t have any picture of his dead father or mother would appreciate such pictures when given to him or her as a gift.

7. Create Your Family Tree

A wonderful way to use old photos is to create a family tree with them. It helps to document your family’s relationship and history.

All pictures of every level of the family would have to be kept and accessible by family members. This is a wonderful idea that can bring your family together and help them know their family history and events, as the case may be.

8. Transform Negatives Into Art

Old negatives can be useful in doing exciting DIY projects. Lampshades, ribbons, candle holders can be made from negatives.  These can also be used in the design of clothes and crafts.

More so, there are ideas of attaching them to a light bulb or lantern for the beautiful memories to reflect when put on, and more creatively. It brings a beautiful memory as it might have to reflect them in a more significant form.

9. Decorations

Paste old photographs on cardboard or thick paper. Hold them in place with clips and fasten these pictures to a series of led lights. This is a nice and decorative item combined with creative lighting for your next family gathering.


Old photos and negatives, usually, cannot be recycled because of the chemicals they contain. These chemicals are detrimental to human health and even animals and plants. Modern photo papers are printed with printer ink, which makes them acceptable for recycling.

Nevertheless, it is important to find out if your recycling center accepts photo papers. It is strongly encouraged that you reuse them to create exciting and worthwhile DIY projects and crafts. You can find a lot of creative things to do with your old photos on Pinterest. So get creative with those boxes of old photos!


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About Rinkesh

A true environmentalist by heart ❤️. Founded Conserve Energy Future with the sole motto of providing helpful information related to our rapidly depleting environment. Unless you strongly believe in Elon Musk‘s idea of making Mars as another habitable planet, do remember that there really is no 'Planet B' in this whole universe.