How can I reuse or recycle photo negatives?

NegativesWe’ve had an email from Uta Bauer asking about recycling old photographs and negatives.

We covered pictures that back on the site earlier in the year but didn’t really include negatives in that.

So how about those negatives? I’m sure they could be used in some really fun craft projects using light but don’t have any specific suggestions – anyone else made anything cool with them?

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34 Responses to “How can I reuse or recycle photo negatives?”

  1. Bobbie says:

    The first thing that comes to mind is a lamp shade with cutouts for the negatives so the light shines through. That would be sooooo cool, especially if the light would project the images on the wall :)

  2. fuchsoid says:

    I’ve seen old colour negatives used for artwork, but they seem to fade quite quickly in sunlight. Old black-and-white negatives are more stable, and would look lovely in a lampshade, although they might be imflammable, so check first.

    I don’t know if it counts as recycling, but I have seen old black-and-white negatives used for cyanotype printing of fabrics. This produces a sort of “photograph” on the fabric in a beautiful blue.

  3. Amos says:

    The holes that run along both sides of each negative strip allow them to be whipstiched together. Get a lamp spider by taking apart an old lampshade and whipstich one row of negative strips horizontally around the edge. Follow with several more rows attached to the bottom of the previous row. Use a low wattage bulb.

    You can also create a lampshade cover by using the negatives vertically and attaching them together in in the top hole on each side with jump rings. When you have strung enough together create a ring and place over a plain lampshade. Attaching them together only at the top allows them to spread out along the cone shaped lamp shade,

  4. Stuart says:

    This is probably a less likely use of negatives, but fully exposed negative film (ie. the black bits) acts as a visible light filter – it is however, transparent to infrared light. You can use this property to convert webcams and digital cameras to primitive IR cameras.

  5. Jen says:

    I’ve see a tote bag made out of old negatives. It was really great. I would like to make iy for myself. It’s artsy and trendy in the fashion world. This is the site
    I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

    • nanette says:

      I am trying to figure out what to do with all my film
      negatives too. I found your blog but when I went to the site I could not locate a photo of the tote bag or the directions of how to make it. Would it be possible to send me that info? Thank you so much.

  6. emily says:

    hope its not too late to post, but maybe you could make a curtain for a window. stitch the sides together and put some grommets on the top row and hang them from hooks. I like this idea so much i think im going to makeum for my art room:) thanks for the post!

  7. candy cook says:

    I made a lampshade from old negatives and gave it to my Father in Law for his birthday a couple years ago. He loves it and it was very cool. He only turns it on occasionally, but he’s never had a problem with it. It’s neato, too. I had negatives from a Blue Angels Air Show & also from the birth of his grandson in it.

  8. c5 says:

    It would be great to make braided or woven basket (or bag) out of it just like how it’s used on old newspaper which is what I usually do.

  9. Cat says:

    These look amazing pasted or rubber cemented to the edges of journals, photo albums/books/scrapbooks, and cards (if you still send them). They’re a beautiful, artful, and interesting touch to anything (other than bills) with paper.

  10. Sarah says:

    Oh My God stop just stop this is horrible do not destroy old negatives for some silly craft project. They may not be the best pictures but they mark a time & an era. just save them in the future they will be looked upon in a different light just don’t do anything stupid please

  11. mandarina139 says:

    Actually, you can scan in the negatives and preserve them before using them for crafts. I def understand the concern with “destroying” negatives, but I found out the hard way that the older negatives get, the more fragile and easily crumbled they become. Find a good scanner and then store the files somewhere secure. Then craft away!

  12. Sunlight says:

    It used to be possible to extract the silver from old black & white negatives, but I can’t remember where to send them. Anybody know ? This was only 10 or so years ago

  13. Ruti says:

    I am loving the tote bag – some negatives are useful, but if you took some poor pictures etc. then this could be a great option. I am loving the idea of decorating items too. I’ve squillions of old negatives so will have a sort through. Thank you all you inspirational people!

  14. Fiona says:

    The above is great and very creative but actually I just want to get rid of a large bag of negatives.

    Any chance the man from Kodak can answer this question as he did the question of old photos?


  15. Bob says:

    Ok, first think of what the materials the product that you wish to dispose or recycle is made of. Film negatives are layered chemicals – suspended on (dried) solutions or suspensions. The problem with disposing of these small, innocuous items is that liquids, moisture can leach out the chemicals from the plastic strip that serves as a medium to view your image. The chemicals then find their way into the soil or water and contaminate it. Many chemicals are naturally found in our settings but at trace or minuscule levels. It does not take much more to raise levels to toxic levels. Treat these small items as you would any chemical in need of disposal and recycling. Contact your local hazardous waste folks for disposal instructions or processing.

  16. Karinna says:

    @ Sarah — Don’t fret! Not all slides were once-loved family snapshots that people are turning into lampshades willy-nilly. I have thousands of slides of museum objects that used to be part of a circulating collection; I have many copies of the same image, even. Most are too discolored to use as accurate representations of the work of art, even if any of our lecturers still used carousels and PowerPoint. There were plenty of industrial uses for slides that are now completely obsolete and not worth anyone’s time to get upset or sentimental about.

  17. Michelle says:


    I completely agree. Though the negatives I recently found (and am interesting in finding a creative way to KEEP and display) are negatives of childhood school pictures of my father, there a about twenty copies of each and the negatives are far too discolored or otherwise stained (from years of improper storage, maybe?) to be useful for more prints. @Sarah- Some “art projects” are tasteful and a great way to permanently keep this “treasures” for future generations, even if the negatives are no longer useful in their original sense.

  18. Stephanie says:

    I used my negatives that got accidentally exposed by the sun before developing and created a hair accessory.

  19. SaraSpots says:

    There is an artist in Atlanta that uses film negatives as a medium to create fine art light boxes. Apparently her process is unique and archival safe, she calls it Celluloidic Artistry™. I donated some of my old film negatives to her that I had been storing and when she used them in a piece of art work she emailed me with the pictures. It was so cool to see moments from my life used in art! She’s got an installation coming up at a local movie theater and the piece with my negatives in it is going to be hanging there – can’t wait to see it in person. Here’s her website, I know she’s always looking for film if you want to email her:

  20. Amy says:

    If anybody has any photographs, slides or negatives they would like to recycle, I would love to turn them into art projects and use them as teaching resources for photography students of mine, email me at :

  21. Fakeer says:

    once you are done with digitally archiving as needed, you can either get artsy with them or relegate them to the landfill. It is the only responsible thing to do because even if protected within plastic sleeves, film tends to disintegrate and shed chemicals. It is not a simple plastic like HDPA etc. The landfill may not appeal to those environmentally concious but it is the only stopgap until we find a way to use complex garbage as raw material.

  22. Susan L. Quinn says:

    I had a feeling that some very artistic individuals would find some value in old negatives. Thus, if one of you would like to acquire 30 years worth of family memories, I will hang on to them even though my daughter is insisting that I throw them in the trash.

  23. Patricia says:

    I’m a genealogist. I would never destroy family negatives. I keep them in archival safe photo pages. However, I have TONS of scenery, wildlife, ect ect mostly mistakes. Overexposed, cut off heads, whatever. These are the things I’m getting rid of and want to recycle or upcycle, what ever way you want to look at it. There is no sense and no room to keep negs of stuff you can’t identify or were errors. I’m opting for a lampshade at the moment. Thanks for all the ideas.

  24. Barbara says:

    I saw on Pinterest that old negatives were modge podged onto a clear vase. A flameless candle placed inside which made a very neat looking votive! I think I may try it!

  25. deirdre says:

    Do I need to protect my negatives from direct sunlight if I want to make a curtain; just thinking of the chemical comments… is it safe to use as a curtain?

  26. Beth says:

    I collect old negatives and photographs so if anyone is thinking of disposing of them, i’d love to take them off you :) x

  27. Julia says:

    I obtained negatives from a printing company I worked for which is now closed. They aren’t of photo images. They were used for envelopes. So they are all businesses addresses. I have realized that the pay out is minimal to have the sliver reclaimed. Any ideas on what I can do with these? They are nothing like the 35mm film. They are just black with the image clear.

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