8 Ways to Recycle Old Photographs and Albums

A reader contacted me to ask how to recycle photographs and albums. She wrote:

“Hi there, I live in Waltham Forest and currently trying to declutter a home I’ve been living in for over 30 years. It’s not a one day job. I recycle, repurpose and reuse lots (and have always had a tendency to hold onto things that will come in useful – and over the years they have!!! However, I really need to shed the excess but trying to find out best way to dispose of old photos and their albums is proving difficult. Leather cover metal spiral bound. I hate the thought of landfill
Hope you can recommend/provide tips”

Can you recycle photographs?

Unfortunately old photographs cannot be recycled easily; if at all. You can be forgiven for thinking that the paper is just thick, glossy paper, but photo paper is not the same. It contains coatings and protectors – including metals and plastics – which can contaminate a batch of paper recycling. And while I can’t find any definitive information, I’m imagining that putting photographs in landfill isn’t ideal either; for the same reasons.

So your best bet might be to find a way to reuse or upcycle those old photographs of yours.

Family First

Before getting rid of them I would urge anyone to offer to family first. Far from just passing on your trash, you never know, there might be a favourite snap that someone is longing for. I’ve experienced the sadness of someone assuming I wouldn’t want a particular photo in the past, so be sure to check with family first. Young grandchildren might love old pictures to keep as ”treasures”, because they’re often not allowed to play with our precious photo albums unattended; so let them make one of their own albums!

Photos are a funny thing. When a family friend of ours died, we found some old photographs of them and sent them to their surviving children. They were overjoyed to have these memories back again. So while I don’t advocate hoarding and we can’t predict the future, just be careful before doing anything compulsive with old photographs.

But if you’re convinced you need to create some much-needed physical and head space, here are some other ideas from our Twitter community and Facebook Group:

Sell as craft supplies

One of my favourite sayings is that One Man’s Rubbish is Another Man’s Treasure, because, in many cases, it’s true! Did you know that older photos can be worth something on eBay or Etsy for craft projects? Scrapbookers and card makers will buy them or, if you’re aware of local scrap booking classes, see if they’d like your old pics.



Give away

As one person on Twitter reminds us, it’s amazing what you can give away on Freecycle. You never know what someone is looking for! I’ve got rid of all sorts of things including a broken camera (someone wanted it for spares), old plant pots and even old jiffy bags and assorted packaging!

Make Art

With people wanting them on Freecycle and prepared to buy them on auction sites, doesn’t it make you want to create something yourself? I recently heard about a project where someone had made a collage on a table and covered it with glass. Talk about original and meaningful furniture!

Help Make History

If your photographs are old and / or of local significance, a museum, local history society or local heritage centre may have a use for them as part of their displays and education programmes. The original person who asked about recycling photos lives in Waltham Forest and they have a museum called Vestry House that their local council recommended.

recycling old photographs


Donate to a school

A primary school may use old photographs for art work and secondary schools might love them for GCSE and ‘A’ Level students to use as raw materials.

And in a similar vein…

Offer to art colleges / artists

I had a feeling most reuse ideas would focus around the arts, but to be honest, when you look at some of the amazing things creative people make, there’s no surprise there is a demand for old photographs. You can also donate them to teachers of photography students for use in classroom settings.

Make into cards

A cunning way to pass your old photographs on to people is to make gift cards with them. It would certainly make a fun, unique and personalised Birthday card for someone!

And the photograph albums – can you recycle them?

Here’s what Waltham Forest Council had to say:

I’d also add that a charity shop might take them.

What about you – what have you done with old photographs and albums, have you found a way to recycle them?

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Rachelle Strauss

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