Physical receipts are printed on what looks like paper, so if “yes” was the answer that popped into your head – we don’t blame you. However, you may be shocked to find out that most paper receipts cannot be recycled.
Receipts seem harmless. They are just tiny bits of paper that don’t amount to much, right? Not quite. These pesky slips don’t actually count as paper by the time they are turned into a thermal receipt.
Most modern paper receipts are covered in bisphenol A, or more commonly known as BPA. The next most common coating being bisphenol S (BPS), a similar chemical that is less regulated in regards to disclosure of use.
A study from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency found that when they tested receipts for BPA and BPS, 18 out of 19 businesses produced receipts containing the chemicals. Another study found that the two chemicals are in 93% of receipts.
Besides being terrible for your health, these chemicals mean that thermal receipts cannot be recycled. Both chemicals are an element of polycarbonate plastic, a hard, clear plastic which means the receipts are no longer purely paper.
When thermal receipts are created, the paper is taken and coated in invisible ink, along with BPA or BPS which acts as a developer. Heat is applied during printing and the two blend together, to form the writing that is printed on our receipts.
So, what should you do with the pesky bits of paper? While we hate to say it, the safest way to dispose of thermal receipts is in the rubbish bin. Nevertheless, if you come across a legitimate paper receipt, then by all means put it in your recycling.
How do you know if your receipt has BPA or BPS? Simply scratch the printed side of the paper with your nail or a coin, if it turns inky or dark - it’s thermal paper. Just be sure to wash your hands afterwards, as the chemicals are easily transferable.