How to destroy laminated photos (responsibly)

How to destroy laminated photos (responsibly)

Disclosure: I earn commissions for purchases made through links in this post. Find out more.

On the one hand, laminated photos seem a great way to protect images and documents from wear and tear. On the other, they are a pain to dispose of responsibly!

Plastic laminated paper is not recyclable in most home recycling programs since it is difficult to separate from the paper.

It’s also typically not biodegradable which means it can sit in a landfill for centuries.

So what’s the best way to dispose of laminated photos?

To be honest there aren’t many options. However, here is what I would suggest:

  • Delaminate and recycle
  • Get creative and reuse them
  • Throw out in your regular trash (a last resort! ☠️)

Warning: Do not burn plastic laminated photos. When the plastic melts, it releases toxic fumes into the air which are harmful to you, people around you, and the atmosphere.

Let’s look at each in more detail (including 11 creative ways you can reuse them.)

How to recycle laminated photos

Delaminatinating then recycling your photos is the best option if you have the time and patience. Follow these steps below to delaminate and recycle your photos.

1. Take a scan of the photo (optional)

If you’re just trying to recycle the photo and not trying to save it, skip this step.

However, if you want to remove the laminate from the photograph, be sure to have a copy of the negative or scan of the image on hand in case you damage the print while attempting to peel it away.

man scanning photo on large flatbed scanner

2. Remove the plastic laminate from the photo

This can be a little tedious and may not be possible with really old laminated photos. However, it’s worth giving it a go.

To remove the plastic laminate:

  1. Cut a corner off the laminate
  2. Insert a thin blade or sharp knife (between the paper and plastic)
  3. Heat the surface with a hairdryer and slowly peel it away from one side
  4. Move the heat around the plastic to soften the laminate while peeling
  5. Repeat the process with the reverse side

This video gives a very clear demonstration of the process:

Removing laminate from a print can be dangerous because it can tear the paper. This is especially true if the print is old and the laminate has been on for a long time.

If you really need to rescue the photograph from the laminate without tearing it, I’d recommend contacting a professional at a print or frame shop that specializes in picture conservation. They will have expertise in removing prints from a variety of surfaces.

It shouldn’t cost an arm and a leg to have them try to delaminate the photo, and they are far less likely to harm the print than if you attempted it yourself. However, even with a professional archivist, there is still some danger to the print, so don’t overlook taking a scan as a backup.

If all else fails you can always have the scan digitally restored and printed out to replace the laminated photo.

3. If you can get the laminate off cleanly, see if your kerbside or local recycling accept it

Check with your council to see if they have a special recycling program for laminated photos. If they don’t, see if they have a recycling program for plastics. If they do, recycle away!

4. If the photo is free of laminate, assess whether it’s a photo or a print

If it’s an old photograph, this cannot be recycled. A photograph has been steeped in chemicals to develop it which if thrown out can contaminate a whole batch of recycling, clogging up the process. See my article here on disposing of old photographs.

If the photo has been printed on photo paper, this is usually ok to recycle. Like glossy magazines, these can typically be thrown in with your paper recycling at home.

11 creative ways to reuse laminated photos

If you can’t remove the laminate or don’t want to try, consider reusing them before discarding them. It’s always better to try and get a few more years out of something before throwing it away.

If you have the time and a bit of creativity, there are so many ways you could reuse them! Here are some ideas:

  1. Create covers for homemade journals or notebooks
  2. Hole-punch and use as tab dividers
  3. Create placemats or coasters
  4. Make into a keyring
  5. Turn them into laminated picture cards or gift tags (write on them with a permanent Sharpie marker)
  6. Cut into strips and use as bookmarks
  7. Make waterproof bunting (cut into pennant shapes, hole-punch and thread with string)
  8. Use the reverse as mini white-boards (using dry erase markers they could be used as calendars or notes – especially useful if pinned to the fridge with magnets)
  9. Use as draw tidies (eg. separators in drawers to organise clothes, socks, stationary, etc)
  10. Donate to the local history society
  11. Donate to a local college or school art departments

There are some great craft ideas there. And if you’re not crafty, I would still highly encourage you to donate the photos. They may not have any monetary value, but there’s a good chance they will be useful to others.

However, if it’s really not feasible for you right now to recycle or reuse your laminated photos, the last resort is to dispose of them in the regular trash (read on for do’s and don’ts).

Throwing out laminated photos

If you cant delaminate your photo or it’s not feasible to reuse them, then the last option you have is to throw them out.

I’ll be honest, my first thought was: wouldn’t it be better to burn them than send them to a landfill?

But after a little research online, the answer is unanimous: NO!

When done in a domestic environment, burning plastic laminate releases noxious gases which are harmful to you, everyone around you and the planet.

So in this case, the lesser of the two evils is to throw out the laminated photos (which ultimately means to send them to a landfill.)

Obviously it’s not an ideal situation but sometimes it might be your only feasible option.

This is the curse of laminating things ☠️. Hopefully, it will soon become a thing of the past!

Destroying laminated photos – Frequently asked questions

This article raised some interesting questions that I thought might be of value to others, so I’ve collected the answers from a variety of sources and compiled them all in one place here.

What is laminated paper or photos?

Laminated paper is where a clear plastic film has been glued to the paper using an adhesive. This is often done to protect the paper or photo from wear and tear or to make it waterproof.

Can you recycle laminated photos?

No, not with the laminate still on it. But if you can manage to delaminate them then you may be able to recycle the plastic laminate and the photo paper separately. Learn more about recycling laminated photos.

Can you remove lamination from photos?

Theoretically yes but in practice, it can be a bit fiddly. See the section above: Remove the plastic laminate from the photo.

Can you shred laminated photos?

Check the manual of your shredder to be sure it can handle laminated paper or plastic. Using the machine incorrectly will void the manufacturer’s guarantee. If the manual makes no mention of shredded laminated paper, it’s best to be cautious and not do it.

If you have sensitive information on laminated photo or documents, you should remove the laminating sheets before shredding them. Read my article about destroying photographs here.

Which is better: burning laminated paper or throwing it out to go to a landfill?

If these are your only two options, then it’s better to go to a landfill than burning. Burning plastic laminate releases noxious gases which are harmful to you, everyone around you and the planet.

If laminated documents contain sensitive information, you should delaminate them before shredding them or disposing of them in any way.

Can you burn laminated photos?

Can you? Yes. Should you? ABSOLUTELY NOT!

Is laminated paper biodegradable?

No, so best to delaminate and recycle the paper and plastic separately, where possible

Can laminated photos be photocopied?

Yes. Scan it like you would any other photo. If there is a bit of wrinkling in the laminate, this would be a candidate for digital photo restoration of the scanned image.

How do you destroy laminated photos without burning or shredding?

The only way I can find to destroy laminated photos without burning or shredding is to delaminate them first and then dispose of the plastic and photo separately.

You could use scissors to chop them up into pieces if you don’t want to use a shredder but unless you can remove the photo from those pieces they still have to be thrown in the trash.


If you have laminated photos that you want to get rid of, the best thing you can do is try to delaminate them and then recycle the paper component. Failing that, you can always try to reuse them in a creative way or donate them to someone who may appreciate them.

Review the following sections for more information:

And remember – never burn them! ☠️

I hope this article has helped you understand a bit more about laminated photos and the best options you have to dispose of them responsibly.