Can I recycle old photos & film?

Dear Amy: Are photographs and negatives recyclable? —Anon., Franklin County

A. Older, traditional photographs are not acceptable in recycling because of the chemical coatings in the paper. More modern photographs printed from digital files may or may not be recyclable, depending on the printing process and the type of paper used. Home-printed photographs that are similar to glossy magazine pages are generally acceptable in recycling.

Earth 911 advises: “If your photograph won’t tear at all, or if it tears in layers rather than cleanly ripping apart like pages in a magazine, you have an old-school photograph in your hands (which is not recyclable). If you see a clean tear, your photo was simply printed and isn’t contaminated with photographic chemicals” (and it is therefore safe to recycle.)

Photo negatives and films are not acceptable in municipal recycling. The only recycler I know of that accepts negatives and film is Green Disk, a mail-in recycling service that recycles electronic media and their cases, cables, film and more. There may be charges for shipping or recycling, check

Old photographs and negatives are safe to throw in the trash, but there are many creative reuse ideas online. Historical or family photos or film negatives can be offered to historical societies or family members.

Dear Amy, where can we bring used motor oil for recycling? What about empty motor oil bottles and oil filters?

—CW, Sunderland

A. Massachusetts state law requires that retailers who sell motor oil take it back for safe disposal or recycling. Retailers must accept up to two gallons of used oil at no charge with an original sales receipt. In addition, many auto supply stores, quick oil change locations, and auto repair shops will accept used oil for free even if they didn’t sell it you, or you do not have the receipt. Some towns accept motor oil at transfer stations or hazardous waste collections. For more information, visit and search for “motor oil recycling.” or call the MassDEP Used Oil Hotline at 617-556-1022.

Empty bottles from hazardous products such as motor oil, drain cleaners, and pesticides should not be recycled. (The contents should be disposed of properly; contact your municipality to check for Household Hazardous Waste Collections, or see The empty bottle may be placed in the trash once the motor oil has been fully drained (and disposed of properly).

Oil filters can contain up to 12 ounces of motor oil. Filters must be drained thoroughly, and the oil must be disposed of as described above. advises: “To drain oil filters, puncture the domed part of the oil filter with a sharp tool. Drain filters on a rack while they are hot for 12 hours, capture the oil for recycling in motor oil collections. Take used oil filters in a sealed bag or container to a municipal collection program in your community, if available. Many communities that collect used oil also collect used oil filters. If no recycling program is available in your community, wrap the drained used oil filter in a plastic bag with absorbents such as a rag or kitty litter, and place in the trash.”

Hi, Amy, I’m wondering what to do with Styrofoam meat packaging? I have looked extensively, but can’t seem to figure it out. —P.O., Greenfield

A. Despite the presence of recycling symbols, items made of expanded polystyrene, also known as Styrofoam, PS, or #6 plastic, are NOT acceptable for recycling at most recycling facilities. #6 items on the “no” list include meat trays, plastic cups, polystyrene cups, polystyrene take-out containers, packing peanuts, shipping blocks, and polystyrene coolers.

It is safe to throw polystyrene in the trash, or if you wash and dry your meat trays carefully, there are many reuse ideas found online.

Send your recycling questions to Donovan is the Program Director at Franklin County Waste and serves on the Springfield MRF Advisory Board. The opinions expressed here are her own.

Author: Amy Donovan

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