The myth of receipt paper and recycling
Updated: May 7
Sustainability is in. Like, BIG time. But paper receipts don't count.
Companies are hiring CSO’s (Chief Sustainability Officer’s) left and right, anti-plastic is the new environmental call-to-arms, and retailers like H&M and The North Face accept unwanted clothing, which they then sell to textile companies to reuse or re-purpose.
But in all the talk about environmentalism and sustainability in Retail, there’s 1 thing that seems to escape notice: paper receipts.
What happens to paper receipts after a customer completes their purchase? They’re usually thrown away, lost, or more often than not, stuffed in a purse or pocket in case the shopper needs to return or exchange something.
But the more environmentally-conscious consumers put their paper receipts in the recycling bin, believing they’re doing their part for Mother Earth.
Aren’t paper receipts recyclable?
Paper is, but receipt paper isn’t. The reason is that receipt paper isn’t standard paper you use in your printer, legal pads, or school notebooks. Receipt paper is coated with chemical substances, notably Bisphenol A (BPA) and Bisphenol S (BPS). These chemicals are known to be toxic and have been linked to low metabolism, hormone disruptions, infertility, and even some types of cancer.
In small amounts, BPA and BPS may not be that harmful, but millions of retail workers experience high levels of chemical exposure, since they come into direct contact with them daily.
And when millions of paper receipts end up in landfills, the toxic chemicals can spread and even wind up in groundwater.
Not so healthy or sustainable, is it?
Paper use is on the rise
What’s more, the use of thermal receipt paper isn’t decreasing. In fact, receipt paper use in the US is actually increasing by 2.3% each year, and this trend is expected to continue into 2025. The United States alone uses 256,300 metric tons of point of sale (POS) thermal paper annually.
The case for digital receipts
In the digital age, consumers expect digital solutions. Think of everything you can do on your smartphone, from controlling the thermostat in your home to diagnosing car problems – you can even pilot a drone!
So why are we still getting paper receipts when we buy diapers or a new shirt? Why aren’t we getting e-receipts on our phones?
Why don't stores offer e-receipts?
Even with the incredible tech we experience every day, and despite customer feedback and the obvious environmental benefits, many retailers are slow in adopting e-receipts.
Some are satisfied with old methods, others hesitate to embrace digital solutions, and still others haven’t been driven by enough consumer demand…yet.
This change is inevitable because the world is already moving in this direction. Paperless tech has existed for some time and digital applications are only growing.
So the next time you throw that mile-long CVS receipt in the trash, think about where it might be going. Better yet, ask your favorite retailer about going digital.