A rather negative decluttering post

Filed in Blog by on September 17, 2010 8 Comments
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How can I recycle my 35mm film negatives?

How can I recycle my 35mm film negatives?

The cd jewel cases and discs have now left the building, but I’ve found something a whole lot more scary than those!

What I’ve now found in my office are some photo negatives.

I don’t want any of them.

They are are either out of focus, duplicates, have my finger over half of them and all of them are over 10 years old because that is when I switched to a digital camera.

Now let me make something clear before you tell me I am throwing away Little Miss Green’s history and I will regret it when I’m 70. First, I have up to date photos on the computer, lots of old photos in albums which we regularly look at (including some black and white beauties of great grandparents) and I believe the only things we are likely to regret in life are the things we DON’T do, not the things we do do; if you get my drift.

I also believe that it is our memories that we need, not the items themselves. Don’t get me wrong, it was only last year I was looking through a pile of sentimental ‘stuff’ and unsure what to do with it, but I’m changing and evolving and what I crave now is order and space. I am no longer defined by my possessions and rather than them bring me a sense of security / affluence / joy they are simply ‘things’ that have to be taken care of, cleaned, dusted or moved around. In short, many of my possessions are those that I no longer want or need. It’s a journey which is interesting to me because I’ve always been one who has enjoyed being surrounded by my clutter, so no one is as shocked as me to find myself in this space and as you might remember, I live with a man who is a natural hoarder, so this is a real challenge for both of us.

I don’t even know what negative are made from (I’ve had guesses from recycling companies to PET tape, vinyl or acetate), but from my dark room days I know they are chock full of chemicals and no, I didn’t want some funky art project because that’s just not me. I’m trying to GET RID of them, not create more clutter through works of art.

Here’s what I’ve come up with so far – as ever I’d love to hear your thoughts:


Donate to Freecycle, a local school or an arts project. Would somebody really want my old negatives that aren’t any good anyway? I’m not so sure, but I’ve been reading around on some beautiful art blogs where people actually BUY things like this from car boot sales and auction shops – one man’s rubbish and all that.

Ok, an art project

The only thing that would be useful to me as a craft project for my negatives was the thought of sewing them together into some kind of fly curtain! We have a lot of flies in summer time due to our house backing onto a field of horses, but ya know, I think I might have to outsource this – anyone want a little job?

Plus, what on earth do I do with my fly curtain throughout the winter months? Where do I store it and will it get UV damage and simply crumble up in the sun?

I’ve called 4 reprocessors in the UK, none of whom can recycle negatives. I have two more people to contact, so I will keep you posted.

That, dear friends, is as far as I have got. It pretty much seems to me that this is a sign of our dim and distant toxic past and it looks like my zero waste plan for the year might be under scrutiny unless someone comes up with an amazing idea for me and can help me out of this potential (landfill) hole.

About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (8)

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  1. Oh this is an interesting one! Like you I’m moving more towards decluttering, I don’t hoard huge amounts because i never aquire that much in the first place, but i do have things like old letters and yes old negatives. There must be interesting art projects, how about a lamp shade? Hmm, this has definitely got me thinking, if I think of anything I’ll let you know….

  2. Lou Tonkin says:

    Donate to the scrap store in gloucester?/artspace in Cinderford?

  3. Katy says:

    If they would crumble up in the sun, is that part of the solution?!

    How about asking at your local photo processing place, Boots or Jessops (although I suppose most negatives are given back to customers), or maybe contacting film manufacturers like Kodak? They must do something with defective batches. http://www.kodak.com/global/en/service/faqs/faq5022.shtml (although it’s US-based and more for industrial quantities)

  4. Katy says:

    ps – I agree with you that art projects from waste tend to just create more clutter and just postpone the problem rather than solve it, although big projects may possibly be a way to both raise awareness and gather enough materials in one place to make it worthwhile to recyclers. But most small craft projects? I wouldn’t give them house room πŸ™

  5. We covered negatives on How Can I Recycle This? a few years ago – we’ve had a number of craft/art project suggestions: http://www.recyclethis.co.uk/20071107/how-can-i-reuse-or-recycle-photo-negatives.

    If you don’t fancy reusing them that way yourself, I love Lou’s suggestion of giving them to a scrap store – someone visiting there will be able to use them for something.

  6. Ben says:

    Turning old things in to something useful is great. I’ve been impressed with turning used cooking oil in to garden lamps and old metal coffee cans in to BBQ lighting devices, but I just don’t need any art projects. I have lots of house plants and some paintings around the house, not to mention piles of books. I’m now exploring ways to reuse negatives, but it’s hard. Most of us aren’t designers or engineers, so generally our thoughts are more art projects than practical. I kind of like the idea of covering a photo album with them, but it’s not exactly practical or useful.

    Although I don’t yet have any really good ideas for your old negatives, I think we’ve found an interesting point. People would like to make useful things out of old stuff rather than art projects, so maybe a book or web site about how to turn rubbish in to useful items could be popular?

  7. Greg says:

    Living with a photographer has changed my mind on negatives. Those photos you are saving in albums are the items that won’t last. If you’re going to keep anything, keep the negatives, because you can make new photos from negatives, but you can’t do anything to revive old faded photos.

    As for your digital camera, digital picture quality means digital photos show their age in only a couple years with camera quality still improving year after year. Imagine how terrible they are going to look in several generations If you somehow managed to keep your data backed up that long??

    Meanwhile, photo quality from 40 year old cameras still holds up.

  8. Mrs Green says:

    @Crafty Green Poet: I think I’ve seen a lampshade; that would probably look pretty stunning.
    @Lou Tonkin: Thanks Lou – you think the scrap store would want them? I would love to donate to them or Art Space!
    @Katy: You think I should leave them out over summer! Great idea LOL! Not sure if it would work, but I could try one to see if they biodergrade. Contacting a photo place is a good idea – thank you! I agree that a large installation can raise awareness, but I’m right with you on the endless erm, works of art, made from recycled materials – can’t stand the things.
    @Louisa @ RecycleThis: Thanks Louisa; I’ll check out all your suggestions and then use them to convince some artists space to take them from me πŸ˜‰
    @Ben: Loving your idea for a book; it could be a collaborative one created by MZW readers πŸ˜€
    @Greg: thanks for all your insight Greg; useful and interesting to know.

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