Recycling Mystery: Photographs

photo album
dark room

Due to chemical coatings, old photos and darkroom prints like these cannot be recycled. Choose reuse for these instead, and try out a few precycling methods to reduce hard-to-recycle waste later. Photo: Flickr/ Christopher Paquette

Try precycling

If you're willing to invest in a modern inkjet, laser or photo printer - or if you already have one at home - you can directly control the paper used for your prints and whether or not they can be recycled later.

Some brands, such as HP Everyday Glossy Photo Paper, can be recycled with other mixed paper and produce crisp, vivid images comparable to professional prints. Just be sure to confirm that your local recycling stream accepts mixed paper before tossing these papers into the blue bin.

Since most photo centers no longer use chemical film processing methods, the majority of those matte digital prints you order from big-box stores and pharmacies can also be recycled with other mixed paper. Before ordering your prints, ask a photo center representative what kind of paper is used and whether or not it can be recycled to avoid a future disposal dilemma.

Opt for reuse

If you already have a shoe box filled with old, non-recyclable photographs, try one of these reuse options before tossing them in the trash.

Donate: If your photos are not of a personal or sensitive nature, you may be able to donate them to elementary schools, day cares or after-school programs in your area for use in craft projects. College students in art or photography programs may also be able to make use of your old snapshots.

Get crafty: If you already enjoy getting your craft on from time to time, why not use those old photos for a reuse project or two? Many of these recycled magazine crafts will work just as well with your photos, as will most paper crafts you'll find around the Web.

Shred it up: As a last resort, try shredding your old photographs and using the remnants as packing material when shipping breakable items. You'll reduce your use of virgin paper and expanded polystyrene packing materials while finding a second (albeit brief) life for your unwanted photos.

For answers to even more of your pressing recycling questions, check out: Recycling Mystery: Plastic Bottle Caps

Mary Mazzoni

Based in the Phoenix metro area, Mary is a lifelong vegetarian and enjoys outdoor activities like hiking, biking and relaxing in the park. When she’s not outside, she’s probably watching baseball. She is a former assistant editor for Earth911.