The Art of Recycling Polaroid Cartridges (Part One)


As with many of you, I am trying to make the best of the time I have due to social distancing. I’ve been cleaning, organising paperwork, doing admin and catching up on all the things I’d been too busy to tackle.

Whilst implementing these tasks I came across a box of empty Polaroid cartridges. I am an instant photography enthusiast and have many of these black cartridges. Something had stopped me throwing them away and a little voice in my head had said: “maybe they will be useful one day?”.

Well, that day has arrived, let’s bring these little black boxes back to life.

Here are some ideas on how to reuse them, firstly some suggestions on how to retain them in the photographic domain and the next instalment a lighter-hearted way to upcycle or recycle them.

Transfer Polaroids to another film cartridge

Imagine loading your Polaroid camera, taking the first picture but it doesn’t work. This is a common problem for many instant photography fans. Generally, the reason is a dead battery in the Polaroid film pack, here is a solution to that problem. You will need a darkroom or changing bag and an empty cartridge that fits into your Polaroid camera. Not every cartridge fits every camera so make sure you have the correct one and if possible use a newer one as these are more likely to have working batteries.

It’s important to make sure there is no light, not even a safe light as instant film is really sensitive.

Put your camera and empty cartridge in the changing bag, if this is what you are using, and unload your camera. You should now have a full cartridge and an empty cartridge, simply transfer the full pack of photos to the empty cartridge one by one, it takes a bit of practice but is pretty easy to do. Make sure to replace the black shield in your cartridge to protect it from the light. Load your camera with the new ‘transferred’ pack and see if it works.

You can do the same thing if you have some i-type films but would prefer to shoot with a 600 Polaroid model. The only difference being is the 600 has a battery and the i-type film does not, so it’s a case of just swapping them over.

A Film Test Pack

If you are a photographer I’m pretty sure you will be susceptible to ‘Gear Acquisition Syndrome’, I know I am. This is a good tip for those of you that buy old Polaroids second hand not knowing if they will work. The most cost-effective way to find out is to make test kits for the different Polaroid models. It would be best to focus on the SX-70 or 600 since Polaroid has announced they intend to phase out the Spectre due to increased incidences of the cameras ‘jamming and breaking down’.

The most important thing to me is to use a test pack to check that the camera ejects the image smoothly and if the flash is charging, this can now be easily done.

You will need an empty cartridge with a battery which is still working. It helps if you remove the black foil at the bottom of the cartridge to ease the loading. Then fill the pack with old images that you no longer want and use it to test your camera. Make sure you mark the cartridge as a ‘TEST’ to ensure you don’t mix it up with an unused film.


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