Q, Is there any way that you can recycle your photographs?
A. The simplest answer is no.
Most, if not all, residential solid waste programs in North America do not accept photographic paper for recycling. However, the longer answer is a little more convoluted.
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First, we need to consider what type of photographic paper it is and how the image is printed. The traditional print development process uses photo processing chemicals to develop film, negatives, and paper containing silver. Common papers used are fibre-based (less popular than resin) or resin-coated. Fibre-based papers would be more apt to be recycled than a resin-coated paper because the latter has a plastic layer on it. However, through the printing process both papers are left with silver remnants.
In some jurisdictions, film, negative and paper from larger users such as photo labs, dentistry and vet clinics are required to be recycled to have the silver reclaimed.
Increasingly, digital images are being printed using technology such as commercial and home sized ink-jet printers. Ink-jet photo papers have porous or non-porous coatings on them that absorb the ink from the cartridge. These papers have a very thin layer of plastic attached to a paper base. The plastic is considered a contaminant in the regular paper recycling process.
Before you send your old photos to the waste stream you may consider making them into postcards, creating a collage, or donating them to a scrapbooking group for practice.
If you are printing your own photos using home printers, consider the following factors:
Purchase a printer that can duplex regular paper and print photos, which will save you paper.
Buying an energy-star certified printer will save energy. Most printer companies provide toner cartridge recycling programs that allow you to mail back the cartridge.
Stores also increasingly have bins for toner cartridge recycling. You can also buy refurbished cartridges with new ink. Recently, there have been new printers introduced to the market that don't use cartridges.
If you can use rechargeable batteries in your camera this is a bonus. You can also recycle your batteries through HRM’s hazardous waste program.
Batteries are nasty little packages of hazardous waste that do not biodegrade in a landfill and can elevate metal levels in the compost stream. Regarding paper, there are some photo papers that do have recycled content though this is not as common as regular paper.
Finally, you can avoid the paper altogether and send the best of the best to family and friends.