Why you shouldn’t recycle receipts

Come again?? Isn’t recycling all the rage now? Wasn’t it supposed to be good to recycle? Well, yes, it is, and you should still try to recycle as much as you can.

Just not receipts.

Thing is, receipts are actually recyclable. You could recycle them with your other papers, or compost them. But here is why you shouldn’t.

Most receipts are BPA-coated

Thermal paper receipts are BPA-coated, and the amount is sheer crazy! Bisphenol A (BPA) is a plastic component that has a similar effect on the body as estrogen and is linked to cancer, pre-mature puberty, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and more. And bad news is that it can be absorbed by mere dermal exposure.

When people talk about polycarbonate bottles, they talk about nanogram quantities of BPA [leaching out]. The average cash register receipt that’s out there and uses the BPA technology will have 60 to 100 milligrams of free BPA.” – John C. Warner (Science News)

Only touching a receipt for five seconds will transfer a significant amount of BPA to your finger. Say, a cashier who has to repeatedly touch these kinds of receipts, will end up with about 71 micrograms of BPA after a 10 hour shift.

So it’s better to just avoid receipts all together. Go digital, baby!

Burn, baby, burn!

Recycling BPA-coated receipts will contaminate the recycled paper. Composting them is even worse, because this could release BPA to surface waters! All of this would increase human exposure to BPA.

To be fair, not all receipts are BPA-coated. However, there is no way of finding out without taking the receipt to a lab. So there really is no way to separate the wheat from the chaff for a John or Jane.

So the sure-fire way of disposing receipts is to burn them (poor pun intended). If you have a fireplace, perfect. Update 2016-11-28: Burning receipts releases BPA into the air! If you don’t, well, best hope your local waste management facility incinerates the trash rather than landfill it. You can always give them a call and ask though 😉. If they only landfill, well, at least the BPA will end up in a pile that is toxic anyway, yay 😒…

Filed under Magazine, Trash

15 Comments

    • Robert Carnegie

      I think BPA will be decomposed by fire – it’s only made of atoms like anything else – but for disposing of chemicals, hotter is best. So, putting these paper receipts into residual household waste that is incinerated is appropriate. Setting the paper on fire in your kitchen won’t be as good. Mount Doom in the Land of Mordor is ideal 🙂 (but closed for the time being following “a major incident”). Or to make sure, use fluorine. (No. Don’t.)

      They say BPA released in the environment doesn’t last long anyway – it’s just that there is always more of it, mostly from industrial processes. And “released” means out on its own. Presently we’re hearing that the sea is filling up with waste plastic, and a lot of that presumably still contains BPA. The BPA probably is “released” when a dolphin eats the plastic and tries to digest it. Released into the dolphin. Rather him than me, but I know that’s the wrong attitude. (And if you eat the wrong kind of tuna, it may come with dolphin. There isn’t actually a right kind of tuna.)

  1. The bank machine statements (Germany): is that the same? they feel “plasticy” to me and I wonder to burn (fireplace) or recycle (Gelber Sack) or Paper Container ? Thank you and I hope you dont my question here but it seems related..;)

    • Hm, we have been downloading our bank statements for at least 5 years, so I am not sure to be honest. You should contact your bank and ask whether or not the paper they use is BPA-free. If they are, great! If they are not, they are general garbage (Restmüll).

    • Robert Carnegie

      Wikipedia says that “thermal paper”, which is printed on just using heat – it turns black (or sometimes other colours) – typically is coated with a mixture of chemicals including an acid, which may be a very ordinary safe chemical or it may be BPA. When the coating is heated, the acid is allowed to work on the other chemicals and change the colour. Resting a hot coffee mug on a corner of your thermal paper probably will mark the paper black where it was touched.

      The advantage of thermal paper is that a printing machine does not require a separate supply of ink. In effect, the ink is on the paper already, but is invisible.

      However, Germany in particular probably is proud to eliminate controversial chemicals of all kinds, including BPA, and they will tell you if you ask. And, on the other hand, just looking at an automobile probably releases more, and more dangerous chemicals into the environment.

      And, when you aren’t storing statements from bank machines, you should destroy them in the most destructive way you can, because of the personal private information in them. Well… technically, eating your paper statements would usually be sufficiently destructive, but, don’t do that. Don’t feed them to your dog either. When you take a dog outdoors, they are liable to leave “messages” all over the place . 🙁 These would contain your personal secret information! … if anyone wants it as badly as that.

  2. Yes yes yes! This one is so hard. If possible, I usually refuse receipts at the store with a simple “I don’t need a receipt, thanks!” said with a smile. Hopefully an encouragement to get them to switch to emailed. (But probably not 🙂

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  4. Thanks for this interesting article! What do you suggest doing with receipts ultimately? If you refuse them in a shop, they just go straight into the bin. The only way I can think of to avoid them completely is to use contactless payment (available widely in the UK) because it only prints the merchant’s copy automatically.

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