If you were born after the year 2000, you’ve most likely never owned a CD. However, you probably do have some photographs. Actual tangible photographs either in frames, on a fridge or lying around somewhere. For those of us who remember the good old days of purchasing film rolls and dropping them off to be developed, well it’s a whole other story. You most definitely have lots of photographs. Photos taken by friends and family as well as your own that you keep in photo albums or simply in boxes. The odds of you having more photos than you actually need to keep are high.
So, what to do with all those pictures? Well, if you ever decide to brave the daunting task of sorting through your past and if you’re not the type of person who will create some oeuvre d’art from them. Then, you will likely engage in a simple triage with a YEP pile and a NOPE pile. For those of you who lived through the trials and tribulations of photographic film, your NOPE pile will probably be quite significant. Especially if you’re like me, a common photo taker and not a photographer.
If you are a Millennial go to part B. Otherwise read on…
PART A: Now that you’ve completed your herculean task and accumulated a large NOPE pile and that Jiminy Cricket gave you a light tap on the shoulder, you may ask yourself: Photographs are paper, right? They can be recycled, can’t they?
PART B: So, you have couple photographs you don’t care for anymore…you can recycle them, right?
Well regardless of your age, unfortunately unlike some of your photos, the answer is not black and white. Photographs may look similar to the glossy pages of a magazine and you might think that you can just throw them into your mixed-paper recycle bin. Regrettably though, the chemical coating process used in developing photos makes the matter a bit more complicated. Chemicals such as silver halides, sodium hydroxide, acetic acid and ammonium thiosulfate are commonly used which causes problems for paper recyclers. Those chemicals will actually contaminate paper recycling batches and degrade the quality of recycled paper.
However, thanks to digital photography and new printing processes, digital prints do not require photographic chemicals. Therefore, depending on your local recycling facilities, these can be typically recycled. (Both Vancouver and Toronto have a nifty online Waste Wizard tool to help households sort their waste responsibly)
So now to go back to your NOPE pile of memories, how do you know which photographs were produced through chemical-free printing and which were not? Although this is definitely not the most scientific method, anyone including your dog can easily do this. All you need to do, is to grab your photograph and tear it. Yep, rip it up! If the photo cleanly tears apart just like the pages of a magazine, then it’s good to go in the recycling bin. On the other hand, if it tears in layers, dump it in the trash can.
Lessons to be learned to become better Earthlings:
- When in doubt check online if your municipality has a Waste Wizard tool.
- Don’t contaminate your local recycling stream with your discarded photographs
- Do the tear test before throwing them in the waste bin.
- If you’re artistically inclined, re-used them!
- Now that we live in a digital age, just print what you want to display.
 Note for Millennials: In the days of analog cameras, it wasn’t until you got your films developed weeks later, that you’d find out whether your trip to Paris was eternalized by a Vogue-like photoshoot or by a blurry, overexposed dream sequence where everyone glared at you with demonic red eyes. The fact is, that if the latter was your only souvenir of your trip… well you’ve probably held on to the photos despite the fact that you’ve never looked at them since!