frames2.jpg While the advent of digital photography has made it less necessary to print pictures, the best way to display printed pictures is still a picture frame. Picture frames are also great for showing off fine art, posters and other non-fine art, and craft projects. Should you tire of the picture frames in your home, you will find it difficult to recycle them. However, there are numerous ways to reuse them.

What are picture frames made of?

Picture frames can be made from a number of different materials. The most common is wood. Once wooden frames are cut and/or carved into shape, they can be varnished, painted or covered with fabric. The manufacturer may add beads, mirrors or other embellishments to them. Many expensive-looking gold and silver picture frames are actually made of gilded wood. Picture frames can also be made with metal, plastic, paper or papier mache, and other products. Picture frames themselves can be glass, but nearly all pictures frames have a piece of glass in the middle to protect the photograph. In low-end frames, the “glass” may actually be plastic. The ancient Egyptians were the first to emphasize the beauty of artwork by carving a decorative edge around it. However, picture frames as we know them today date to the 13th century.

How to recycle picture frames

Picture frames made of untreated wood can be recycled. However, almost all picture frames are either painted, varnished or gilded. Picture frames with any type of treatment will need to go in the trash. The same is true of most plastic picture frames. Unless you can find a recycling symbol on the bottom of your picture frame, and your community accepts that type of plastic (either through a curbside recycling program or a recycling center), your plastic picture frames are headed straight for the garbage. You may be able to recycle metal picture frames by taking them to your local recycling center. Determine whether they are ferrous or non-ferrous metal by trying to get a magnet to stick to them. Only ferrous metal is magnetic. Then ask the attendant where you should put the picture frame. Make sure you remove the back, glass, picture and all other materials before you put the frame in the recycling bin. Paper picture frames, as well as any paper in the frames (stock photos, matting board, etc.), can be recycled unless they have a large amount of embellishment. Plain paper frames are fine. Those with lots of stickers, brads or other things attached may need to go in the trash. If you have any doubt about whether the item can be recycled, leave it out. You should also leave papier mache frames out of the recycling bin. The glass in picture frames, as well as picture frames made of glass, are also not recyclable. Bottle and jar glass are the only types of glass that can be recycled with any ease. Unless your community has a very specialized glass recycling program, you should keep picture frame glass out of your recycling bin. All that being said, the reuse potential for picture frames is almost endless. If you have a picture frame you no longer need, think about ways to upcycle it. Or, if you are not the crafty type yourself, see if you can find a way to get it to someone who is.

How to reuse picture frames

If your frames are in really good shape and have some kind of special feature, such as ornate carvings and gilding, it is worth looking into seeing if anyone will buy them or accept them as a donation. Framing shops may be happy to pay for them and then sell them to clients. An art college might appreciate having beautiful frames for displaying students’ work. Send any other picture frames you no longer want to your favorite thrift store. Plenty of people look for secondhand picture frames. Picture frames can be used for all kinds of things – and not just pictures. Here are just a few examples of fun projects that utilize old picture frames: 
  • Turn it into a shadow box to display collages, sculptures and other dimensional artwork 
  • Add hardware cloth or ribbon to a glass-less frame and use it to hold earrings 
  • Place fun photographs or clip art behind the glass and use it as a serving tray 
  • Attach some recycled wine corks to make a conversation-starting corkboard 
  • Make a menu board for your kitchen by painting a board with chalkboard paint and adding a picture frame 
And here is an important thing to note: If the glass in your favorite picture frame breaks, you do not have to throw the whole thing away. See if a local framing company can cut a new piece of glass for you. Scour thrift stops for frames that are the same size, then remove the glass. Or, as described above, repurpose that frame into a project that does not require the glass at all.

Craft your own picture frames from recycled materials

Picture frames are very easy to make. All you need are a few simple tools and a few simple materials. Sites like Instructables and Life Hacker have instructions for crafting your own picture frames. Use recycled materials for super green frames. Once your frames are made, think about how you can embellish them. All kinds of recycled items look great on picture frames. Try using cool bottle caps, pottery shards, shells, ribbon roses, fabric, jewelry and other bits of material. This can be a great way to use up small items that are difficult to recycle otherwise.