• The Photo Organizers

A Green(er) Memory Footprint: Helping the Environment While Preserving Your Photos

I was having coffee with a friend who asked me what to do about her “memory footprint.”  

Memory footprint?  Huh?  That was new a term to me.

She went on to explain that she is the family historian.  Collecting family photos, scrapbooking and watching old home movies are her favorite things to do in her spare time.  (No wonder I like this lady!  We have a lot in common!)  But as her collection grows and technology changes, she is beginning to wonder about the impact it has on the environment and what she can do to reduce her, as she calls it, “memory footprint.”

Specifically, she asked about what to do with old VHS tapes, CDs and DVDs once they had been converted to digital format.  What about old photos and slides, too?  What’s the best practice for preserving printed and digital photos?  Thankfully, as a personal photo organizer and keeper of my family’s…”memory footprint,” I had already traveled the path to a greener footprint for managing memories and could help my friend with answers to her questions and more.

Start Local

Recycling practices vary based on the local sanitation company.  My friend and I live in the same city and our local service allows digitally printed photos to be put in the recycling bin because they recycle mixed and glossy papers.  Unfortunately, the other stuff—including negatives, VHS, CDs, DVDs, films, slides, etc—cannot be recycled locally and must go in the traditional trash.  If this is your only option, please consider shredding items before trashing to protect your privacy.

You’ll notice that I said “digitally printed photos” can be recycled.   Chances are your more recent photos printed at a big-box store or a pharmacy are digital prints.  Digital prints can be recycled because images captured by digital cameras do not require photographic chemicals to print.  There is a quick test that you can do to determine if the photo can be recycled according to Earth911.   Simply tear the photograph.  If it rips cleanly, you have a digital print for the recycling bin.  Or, if it rips in layers, you have an older photo which cannot be added to the recycling bin.

Give your photos the tear test

Recycle Your Memory Footprint

I have found a responsible and secure resource for disposing of technotrash—including CDs, DVDs, VHS tapes, black-and-white film (e.g. photographic film negatives, instant film, 8mm, etc.).  They even take floppy-disks!   Simply box it up and ship it to where your obsolete materials will be safely and securely destroyed or recycled.  There is a fee for recycling these items, but the benefit is that the chemicals and non-biodegradable items stay out of the landfills and makes our world a little greener.

My friend was so excited because this removed a big box of technotrash from the corner of her office, giving her room for a new comfy chair.

Reduce Your Memory Footprint

My friend admitted that she doesn’t plan to eliminate her photo collection entirely and that she wants options for reducing her use of traditional printed materials.  We talked about how to store photos, share digital photos and find eco-friendly print materials.

Use Archival-Quality Materials

Once you have narrowed down your collection and properly disposed of unwanted materials, your collection should be stored in archival-quality boxes or albums to protect it for years to come.  Additionally, the production of the archival-quality materials uses fewer chemicals making it more environmentally friendly and easier to recycle both the production by-products and the paper itself.

Share Digitally

The digital age has made it easier than ever to store and share your photo collection.  Old photos and videos can be scanned and added to your digital collection.   A few ideas for sharing digital images include: offers permanent, private and secure storage with convenient family sharing.

Digital frames with Wi-Fi, such as NixPlay, make it easy to share digital photos from your phone to anywhere in the world to a high-resolution display.

Electronic greetings can be personalized with your photos and sent using email.  Smilebox has some great designs for greetings, invitations, collages and slideshows.

Eco-friendly Printing

For those favorite photos, look for products which include eco-friendly materials.  For example, MPIX offers papers with post-consumer recycled content for greeting cards.  Additionally, their photo books and bamboo prints are Forest Stewardship Council certified to ensure that you are purchasing environmentally appropriate materials.


We also brainstormed some ideas to reuse her materials.  After all, maybe those old materials still have some life in them.  Consider sharing prints with the other people in the picture.  Or, look around on Pinterest at all the fun DIY projects for repurposing old slides, slide carousels and movie reels.  My friend isn’t quite the DIY crafter-type (I even think she rolled her eyes at me!), I suggested she consider posting her collection on Freecycle or Ebay to make it available to crafters and artists.  Remember one man’s trash is another man’s treasure!  For example, here are a couple of fun upcycled items I found on Etsy.

Whether you want to recycle, reduce or reuse your photos, slides and videos, this list will help you shift to a green(er) way to save, share and enjoy your “memory footprint.”

If you have a resource that you love or know of a service within the evolving “green economy,” please share in the comments.

If you have questions, need to find eco-friendly solutions or need help eliminating a pile of technotrash from the corner of your office, contact the Association of Personal Photo Organizers (APPO) to find a photo organizer near you.

Andrea Sims is a certified member of APPO and the owner of Your Story. Share It!    She is passionate about celebrating memories with photos.  After many years of scrapbooking as a hobby and volunteering with school yearbook staffs—first as a student and later as a parent—she decided to become a photo organizer.  Being a photo organizer gives her the opportunity to help other people enjoy their photos and share their stories—all from a green(er) perspective.

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