Receipts are a byproduct of almost every purchase we make, and they often accumulate at the bottom of our bags until we finally throw them out. Many of us assume that because receipts are paper—or paper-like—they can be recycled like any other paper item. However, that may not be the case.
Most receipts contain more than just your transaction. They may include return policies or coupons, making the paper extra long. Plus, because we’re constantly consuming, we’re producing a lot of receipts.
According to Everyday Recycler, over 300 billion paper receipts are produced globally each year. And over 9.6 million trees in the U.S. are cut down to make receipts each year. Unfortunately, most of us just let those receipts go to waste, dropping them in with paper recycling and forgetting all about them.
However, like shredded paper, receipts can’t be recycled the way paper traditionally is. Here’s why.
Are Receipts Recyclable?
While there are still some paper receipts out there, most companies use a type that has a shiny coating that feels smoother than paper. It may even resemble plastic. This is because receipts are printed on a special type of paper called thermal paper.
Thermal paper is coated with a chemical called bisphenol-a, or BPA. This chemical is heat-activated, so to print a receipt on thermal paper, you don’t need ink. The heat causes the paper to change color, printing your transaction in bold.
Because receipts have that chemical coating, they’re not 100% paper and they cannot be recycled as such. BPA is easily transferrable, so when the thermal paper comes in contact with regular paper, it contaminates the natural paper. And unfortunately, BPA cannot be recycled or reused because it’s harmful to people and the planet.
Recycling products containing BPA is dangerous because it puts the chemical into products we use every day, including paper towels, tissues, or toilet paper. And BPA exposure isn’t good for humans or animals. According to the Cleveland Clinic, past studies have linked high levels of BPA with heart problems, hormone-related cancers, and other health issues.
And just as thermal paper can’t be recycled, it also can’t be composted like most scrap paper. Here’s what to do with your receipts instead.
How to Responsibly Dispose of Receipts
The most sustainable way to deal with receipts is to decline to receive one altogether. Eliminating receipts decreases your carbon footprint and keeps waste out of landfills.
However, if you want to keep track of your purchases, opt for digital receipts when you can. Most businesses can send you a receipt via email or text message, so you still have one for your personal records. Going digital decreases the amount of thermal paper being used, and you won’t have to worry about those crumpled receipts at the bottom of your bag anymore.
If you still have paper receipts lying around, your best bet is to throw them in the trash. It’s not the most eco-friendly option, but it prevents harsh chemicals from getting recycled and made into new products we’ll ultimately consume. And from now on, be sure to check either the “no receipt” or the “email receipt” options at the register.
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