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Can You Recycle Receipts

Can You Recycle Receipts - Almost Zero Waste

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Can you recycle receipts? After all, they are made from paper, so they have to be recyclable, right?

After my research, I found that it is a bit more complicated than I thought.

Here is why you cannot recycle receipts –  

Most receipts are not recyclable nor compostable, so you have to throw them away. Receipts are printed on thermal paper, which resists decomposition, and it is toxic because it contains BPA.

Let’s dive in a bit deeper, and observe a few essential questions, including:

1. CAN YOU RECYCLE RECEIPTS?

  • Are receipts compostable?
  • Are receipts biodegradable?
  • How to dispose of receipts?
  • Are supermarket receipts recyclable?
  • Can you recycle CVS receipts?

2. WHY RECEIPTS ARE BAD:

  • What is thermal paper?
  • What is BPA?

3. WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT IT:

  • Tips on how to avoid receipts
  • Is it safe to throw away receipts? (containing personal info) 

1. Can you recycle receipts? (a deeper look)

No. Most states and cities require you to keep thermal paper out of your recycling.

Unfortunately, very few places have special services that encourage the recycling of receipts.

Most places around the world don’t offer programs for recycling receipts.

This is because BPA (a chemical used in most receipts) is hard to remove, during the paper-recycling process.

If this type of paper ends up in paper recycling centers, it is likely to end up in products like toilet paper, paper napkins, paper food storage, shopping bags, and other everyday things people consume.

Receipts can contaminate the whole batch of recycled paper, with the chemicals they contain.   

Moreover, the recycling of thermal paper can lead to the release of BPA into the environment through sludge and wastewater.

Can You Recycle Receipts - Almost Zero Waste

Are receipts compostable?

You should not put your receipts in the compost bin.

There is little information available about the reaction of BPA in soil, and the topic needs more research.

But for all we know now, it’s best to avoid putting receipts in your home compost. BPA may be a harmful contaminant for your compost. 

There are very few places that have industrial composting services for receipts. It is best to check with your local waste services to see if they have any specific rules about it.

Are receipts biodegradable?

Receipts are printed on a type of paper, which resists decomposition. 

That’s because that type of paper requires a large concentration of BPA for the symbols to appear. 

How to dispose of receipts?

The tricky part is that as they are made from paper, so you might think they are recyclable. 

It turns out that that type of paper can’t be recycled because of what is put on it or added to it.

Most receipts are coated with chemicals, like Bisphenol A (BPA), which makes them non-recyclable.

For that reason, the current solution to dispose of receipts appears to be the trash.

Disposing of thermal paper in the trash provides limited time and opportunity for BPA to break down within a landfill.

Because of the way landfills are treated, it is supposed to reduce the release of the spread of BPA.

However, that’s not always the case. Even though the anaerobic (without oxygen) conditions in many landfills do not favor the degradation of BPA, there is still a change of BPA entering the environment. 

What about incineration?

Studies suggest that the burning of plastics that contains BPA releases a significant amount of BPA into the atmosphere. Even though further research is needed to confirm the results, it’s best to avoid doing it. 

Are supermarket receipts recyclable?

Most supermarket receipts are NOT recyclable. A study from 2018 tested 207 paper receipts, from a variety of businesses. They found that 93% of the receipts contain either BPA or BPS.

Only a small number of businesses are using alternative methods, or uncoated paper receipts. 

Can CVS receipts be recycled?

Unfortunately, CVS receipts aren’t recyclable. Many drugstore paper receipts are made from shiny thermal paper, too.

Thermal paper, including CVS receipts, are usually made of more than one material.

This makes them nearly impossible to separate in the recycling process, without the risk of releasing BPAs into the air.

Can You Recycle Receipts - Almost Zero Waste
The number of receipts I generated for 1 month. Find out below some tips on how to reduce and avoid receipts.

2. WHY RECEIPTS ARE BAD:

What is thermal paper?

Thermal paper is a special fine paper that is coated with a material formulated to change color when exposed to heat. Usually, the reactant acid in thermal paper is bisphenol-A.

These chemicals allow printing via heat transfer, rather than with ink.

Where is the thermal paper used? 

Thermal paper is used almost everywhere, including:

  • credit card machines or ATMs 
  • airline boarding passes and luggage tags
  • movie tickets or parking tickets
  • prescription labels
  • supermarket food labels
  • cash registers

What is BPA?

Bisphenol A is a controversial chemical commonly used in manufacturing plastic containers, canned food, and sometimes bottles for the last 50 years.

Another item that is coated with BPA is thermal print papers.

BPA holds some health risks – it is known to be an endocrine disruptor and it is even linked to cancer. It can be transferred and absorbed through your skin.

This is why a lot of people refuse to touch receipts since they don’t want to be in contact with BPA. 

This chemical is an environmental contaminant, too. There is widespread exposure from multiple sources.

Multiple studies point out that BPA can cause harm to our bodies. This study found that: 

  • BPA can enter the skin to a depth such that it is no longer removable by washing hands.
  • When taking hold of a receipt consisting of thermal printing paper for five seconds, roughly 1 μg BPA is transferred to the forefinger and the middle finger. If the skin is dry or greasy, it is about ten times more. 
  • People that are exposed to thermal printer paper for around ten hours per day, like cash registers, could reach 71 micrograms per day
  • Even though this is 42 times less than the present tolerable daily intake (TDI), it should be reconsidered, since, we do not need any of this.
SourceTransfer of bisphenol A from thermal printer paper to the skin, Biedermann 2010
Can You Recycle Receipts - Almost Zero Waste
Here, I placed the flame of a lighter under the receipt. I didn’t burn the paper, I just started putting the lighter a bit closer to it. Very quickly, the receipt turned black.

How to tell if the receipt has BPA?

If you scratch the printed side of the paper with a coin and it turns dark, then it probably has BPA or a similar chemical.

You can also try to burn a small part of the paper – if it turns black, then it has something added to it.

I did this experiment with a lighter, and the receipt turned black immediately. (check image above)

Some receipts may claim to be “BPA-free,” but as a replacement, manufacturers frequently use another chemical coating called BPS (bisphenol S).

Unfortunately, this BPS has very similar health dangers, and it is also transferred through your skin.


3. WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT IT:

Tips on how to avoid receipts

Self-check:

Some supermarkets have self-check where you can choose if you want to receive a receipt or not.

Go digital:

Ask if the shop you buy from offers digital receipts. There are very few that have this, but nothing will hurt you to ask. If they have it, take a digital option. 

E-receipts offer benefits such as reducing manufacture, transport, storage, and disposal of thermal paper and its associated chemicals.

Can You Recycle Receipts - Almost Zero Waste

Eco-friendly receipts:

SOME store receipts are recyclable and compostable. The difference is that the recyclable paper receipts aren’t smooth, with a glossy appearance (as most nonrecyclable receipts). 

The tricky part is that it may be hard to distinguish if you have a receipt, that is “eco-friendly”. Do the trick with the coin I mentioned before, and check if your receipts are coated with BPA. 

If you are shopping from an eco-friendly or “zero waste” shop, it is possible that they use that kind of receipts.

Less frequent shopping:

Every year, it is estimated that 9.6 million trees are cut down in the United States for receipts. And that’s only for the US!

By shopping less frequently, you will reduce the creation of receipts. Of course, that is not always possible, but you can try to plan out your shopping.

For instance, if you shop once a week, instead of every few days, that’s already something. The less you shop, the fewer receipts you will get.

Contact your local recycling center:

The way receipts are handled, depends pretty much on your local recycling program.

For example, Belinda Mager from the New York City Department of Sanitation told me that they ACCEPT paper receipts in the curbside bin since their processor is able to handle this material.

HOWEVER, they advise going PAPERLESS, if possible.

In general, by taking that extra step, you can figure out if you can actually recycle your receipts, or what are the specific rules about disposing of receipts. 

Farmer’s market:

I don’t know if that’s applicable everywhere, but from my experience, I didn’t receive any receipts, by visiting and buying things from local farmer’s markets.

I’ve heard that in some places, farmers are not obligated to print out a receipt. I’m not 100% why is that, and if this policy applies to most locations. But you can see it for yourself. 

If that’s the case where you live, then that’s another simple way to avoid receipts (and to support your local farmers!).

Can You Recycle Receipts - Almost Zero Waste

Is it safe to throw away receipts?

What’s the safest way to dispose of any receipts that keep some personal data? Use paper shredder or scissors to cut receipts with personal information, before disposal:

  1. Place the receipt with your data in the shredder or use scissors
  2. Cut the areas with your personal information, such as name, address, or credit card numbers 
  3. Once you are done, place the shredded receipts in the bin, where you dispose of your nonrecyclable trash

Conclusion

Let’s end up with some good news!

In January 2020, the European Commission’s restriction of BPA in the thermal paper comes into effect. Their goal is to find better replacements that are sustainable and safe.

All in all, how to dispose of and avoid receipts may sound like the smallest issue in the world.

However, a huge amount of resources are used for the production of billions of receipts each year.

Besides that, a small change on a bigger scale isn’t that small anymore. The truth is that precisely the little changes are the ones that can create a significant impact. 

How do you handle receipts, where you live? Tell me in the comments below!


Can you recycle receipts – infographic:

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Can You Recycle Receipts - Infographic - Almost Zero Waste

One Comment

  1. I just tried buying BPA and BPS free thermal receipt paper for my bakery. I’m hoping that because they will likely end up in my compostibles bin, that will be better for the environment. However, I don’t know what chemicals they use instead and whether those are just as bad. Bought from POS Supply for about $25 more per case, yikes!

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