How Do I Dispose of Old Photographs?

Even in this day and age, some of us still have our old photographs. And to be honest, I understand why – there’s something magical about looking at and touching a physical photo that just can’t be explained. But what happens when you no longer need or want these old photographs? Well, that’s what we’re going to talk about in today’s post.

Can you recycle old photos?

Old photos can’t be recycled. It doesn’t matter whether they are glossy or not – you can’t throw them in your recycle bin or even take them to a nearby recycling facility. This is because old photographs are usually coated with plastics, metals, and other chemicals that help them dry quickly and resist water.

Some of these coatings are silver and mercury. Not only are they toxic but they can also contaminate paper recycling streams.

Keep in mind though – modern photos are usually printed on recyclable paper. You just have to look for a recycling facility that accepts them and delivers them there. Your local authorities can help you find one.

If you’re not sure whether your photo is a modern or old one, try cutting it in half. If it cuts smoothly, it’s a modern photo and can be recycled – if you struggle cutting it, it’s an old one.

How do I dispose of old photographs?

The easiest way to dispose of old photographs is to throw them in the trash. If you’re not comfortable with others being able to see you or the other people in the photographs, you can shred them or cut them into little pieces first. Other ways you can maintain the privacy of photo subjects before disposing of them include:

  • Blend them – you can cut the photos into small pieces and then blend them. You can even add a slice of bread to the blender as well to move things along
  • Freeze and then crush them – when you freeze your old photographs, they become brittle enough for you to crush them into small pieces
  • Paint them – you can either paint the side with the picture or throw the whole photo in a can of paint
  • Use an abrasive to deface them – you can use 80-grit sandpaper to do this effectively. Alternatively, you can put the photos in a closed can containing aluminum oxide or gravel and then shake it
  • Use a drill – you can pile the photos in a stack and then deface them by drilling holes in them

Just remember to make digital copies of your old photographs before doing any of the above – store them in the cloud if you can. This way, you can always have copies of your photos with you wherever you go.

Can you burn pictures with fire?

While it’s not ideal, you can get rid of your old photographs by burning them. To do this effectively, light a fire in a large open place and toss your photos in it in batches.

Alternatively, you could use a furnace. Interestingly, you can even use a heat gun for this purpose. Whatever route you choose though, ensure you wear a gas mask to protect yourself from inhaling toxic fumes. Also, don’t try to burn your old photographs in your home oven.

What can I do with old photos?

Apart from burning or throwing old photographs away, you can also:

1. Give them to members of your family

Instead of getting rid of old photographs, it’s always advisable to try to pass them on to your children or other family members. They could find a picture of themselves that they love or even find all the photos sentimental.

2. Donate

If you took any historical photographs in your day, you can donate them to schools, local museums, and other organizations. Historical societies have particularly been known to value pictures from the war or other historical events.

3. Make postcards

This is yet another interesting thing you can do with your old photographs. You can easily write a warm message on the back of a photo and send it off to someone you love.

4. Make art and crafts

If you’re into arts and crafts, you can easily use old photographs to create things like lampshades and candle holders. If you don’t want to do this yourself, you can give the photos to an artist to do it for you.


When it comes down to it, disposing of old photographs is never an environmentally-friendly affair. It’s either you are throwing them into a landfill or burning them to release toxic fumes. As such, it’s always best to keep these photos for as long as possible and look for ways to pass them on to someone who needs them more.

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