22/08/19

How to dispose of your print photographs

Once you’ve digitised your old photographs (hopefully with us!), you can safely dispose of the prints and finally declutter one more part of your life. Make sure you’ve saved copies of the digital images on the cloud – if that’s news to you then have a read of our hand dandy blog post on cloud storage.

Photo paper is slightly different to normal paper, in that it has been specially coated with any number of exotic film protectors – acetate, silver, selenium, uranium, copper or gold. In 1998, Kodak wrote a report showing how much silver was actually in photographic paper and film. Turns out, enough to extract and refine and make a bit of cash. For instance, they found that 1,000 square feet of Kodak Gold Film contains 31 grams of unrefined silver. You probably don’t have that much film, but if you’ve got a bunch of lithographic, or medical and dental X-Ray film lying around, they could be worth something to specialist metal extraction companies.

If that’s too much hassle, and you simply want to clear everything out, recycling photos can be tricky. You can’t just put them in the recycle bin as they will contaminate the batch and it could force perfectly recyclable rubbish into landfill. Councils are now using waste incineration as a way of generating energy. It is not 100% efficient but it seems to be the best way of getting rid of photographic paper and film in an environmentally sound way.

Kodak put out this helpful and not at all confusing statement for just this query:

Both types of modern film base (acetate and polyester) can be recovered, though the facilities for doing so may not exist in all locations. The economics of the recovery process, as well as the potential environmental impact, may make the transport of waste film over long distances impractical. If local recovery is not possible, de-silvered film should be disposed of by incineration with energy recovery. If suitable incineration facilities are unavailable, the waste may be disposed of to landfill without risk of adverse environmental effects. Waste photographic paper is not generally recoverable. Most papers are coated with a very thin layer of polythene to control water absorption and speed drying, and should not therefore be mixed with other waste paper destined for conventional paper recovery. Waste photographic paper should be disposed of by incineration with energy recovery. If suitable incineration facilities are unavailable; the waste may be disposed of to landfill without risk of adverse environmental effects.

So, the message is: Only recycle and incinerate if you have the correct facilities near you. Your local council will be able to tell you if they have the right spots in your area. If there’s nothing , there are private specialist companies like TerraCycle or WasteCare who can do the job, but you need to pay for the pleasure. If there are no other options, most councils will recommend throwing photos out with the normal rubbish. The photographs will go into landfill and, because they are paper, decompose there. It’s not ideal, but at least it won’t have “adverse environmental effects”.

But! Before you even think about putting those photographs anywhere near an incinerator, make sure you sort out the ones you love and digitise them, and they will last forever. Vintage Photo Lab will collect, scan and return your photos, slides and photo albums. Check out our full services or get in touch to see how we can help.