Receipts, recycling and BPA

Filed in Blog by on October 13, 2010 10 Comments
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paper recipts for a month weighing 90gms

paper recipts for a month weighing 90gms

I’ve got a bit of a thing about receipts and I’ve been wondering recently how many tonnes of paper we get through every year for the sake of a piece of paper showing proof of purchase.

For large or expensive purchases, or for warranty purposes I understand the need for a receipt, but for every day things like a pint of milk I really don’t see the point.

Surely with technology as it is, it should be easy to have some kind of electronic proof and no need of a piece of paper to take home? For those of us who use cards, surely our information can be electronically stored?

90 gms of receipt paper

I decided to keep my receipts for a month to see just how much paper was there. The thing is, I probably failed because I’m so used to NOT taking the receipt that I forgot sometimes. For example, I never take one from an ATM when I withdraw cash. I don’t take them for car fuel, neither do I take them for a couple of items such as a pint of milk and a lb of potatoes. So I’d say that the photo represents about three quarters of the receipts I might have been given. It weighed 90gms – nearly as much as our total landfill waste per week last year.

That could mean every year I’m given over 1kg of paper, just to throw away after purchase! Multiply that across the country, and that’s a lot of trees, energy, transportation, water and goodness knows what other precious resources being used up, in many cases unnecessarily.

Throw them away

One interesting incident the other week, which prompted my post, was when buying some wood for a new roof. We went to our local builders yard, loaded the stuff onto the car and were given a yellow remittance notice to take to the payment desk. We took the notice to the cashier, who took the piece of paper from us, typed in our number into his computer, screwed up the yellow advise note and threw it away. We’d had that A4 piece of paper for less than 1 minute before it ended up landfilled

Mr Green quizzed the cashier and asked if they recycle the paper. We were told that they went up to the cash office. Huhn? We’ve just seen him screw it up and chuck it in the bin …

That’s more wasteful than the humble carrier bag, which probably gets used on average, for around 20 minutes before being thrown away.

BPA in receipts

Hopefully you recycle all the receipts you get given, because if you throw them away they’re soon going to add up to a whole stinkin’ pile of landfill waste. I’ve put them in the compost heap before now, but Kristen contacted me and alerted me to the fact that thermal paper contains BPA. She asked for my advice, of which I didn’t have any, so I suggested she got in contact with Beth from Fake Plastic Fish. Beth confirmed that they DO have BPA in them, so if you’re looking to avoid that in your home grown food, don’t compost them.

I think I will use them as fire lighters with my funky recycled log maker or compost them where I might be planting flowers instead of food; although I’m not sure yet how high the risk of BPA contaminating the compost is (especially when you take into account the amount we’re getting from other sources (cell phones, computers, flame retardants, pesticides) without even realising). If you want to know more, there is an interesting article in Science News about BPA in receipts.

3.74 million trees wasted

According to the New Observer, there are 220,000 tons of paper produced specifically for printing receipts in the United States each year, equating to 3.74 million trees.

Double sided receipts

One company which is doing something about this is J Sainsbury; I noticed that they print their receipts double-sided, which basically means they are cutting their receipt paper by half. It’s not rocket science is it? Maybe more retailers could follow suit until we get our heads around paperless receipts. We’ve got paperless billing, so maybe paperless receipts are the next step. I’m not sure how this could work for cash payments, but for credit cards or debit cards it can’t be that difficult.

What are your thoughts? Do you think we should try and reduce the amount of paper receipts we produce or do you like to have them for your records? Are you worried about BPA leaching in your compost? Over on Software advice, they created a poll about paper receipts. where 89% of people supported getting rid of receipts…


About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (10)

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  1. Chris says:

    I certainly think there is a case for stores reducing the amount of paper a receipt requires. Surely all we need is basic purchase details, store name and payment method. I do not need to know selling messages and the name of the store manager etc.

  2. Karin says:

    I’d like to see more stores with double-sided receipts, especially the supermarkets where receipts tend to be longest, however, I wouldn’t want them to hurry to replace the equipment that prints single-sided receipts as that could result in a lot of wasted equipment, but when they real need new tills, let them print double-sided.

  3. I wish more places would give me an option! The ATM and gas station are about the only two places that let me choose whether or not I want one.

    Having a separate compost bin for growing flowers is a good idea…I might have to implement that one.

  4. Susi says:

    Our solution to the receipt gathering is to try not to spend money! Love the idea from Sainsbury’s, have to say I was a wee bit confused the first time we got a double sided one.
    Sadly our local co-op has stopped asking if you’d like a receipt and just assume you want one. Annoying!
    The ones we do have always go in the paper recycling.

  5. LJayne says:

    I never knew that thermal paper contained BPA. I soak my receipts before feeding them to my worms but they are making compost for me. I shall have to put them on the fire instead.

    I do try and minimise my paper and I recycle as much as poss – I only soak the really private financial ones. But I’m loathe not to collect them for anything that involves my bank account because both my DH and I have had our cards cloned in the last year and they can be really useful when there are 2 of us using the bank account (it’s a joint one). He doesn’t always tell me where he’s been to buy whatever and I do all the financial stuff.

  6. Jane says:

    Well I am someone who wants a receipt very often because I need to claim back the cost .

    I am not too bothered about my own purchases unless they are expensive and like to be asked whether I need a bag or want a receipt.

  7. Alyson says:

    I recycle my receipts unless they contain any part of my bank details then I shred them before composting them.I’m afraid I like getting my receipts but that’s because I have to keep an eye on finances. My local One Stop shop never gives you a receipt, you have to do the asking and I don’t. It’s only for the odd item. Never heard of BPA .Nothing is ever simple is it?

  8. Ann Knight says:

    It is great to see the Stagecoach have changed their ticket machines and the bus tickets are now really small instead of the long ones they used to give.

    However I always have ATM receipts as I like to balance our accounts with them, they are shredded. And I must have a suspicious mind but I like to see receipts for purchases, unless I have seen a computerised total, if you don’t have a receipt on a manual type till, or one where you can’t see the total, what is to stop a dishonest assistant from pocketing the cash?

  9. Julie Day says:

    I usually keep receipts for ages for major things such as beds etc, and for clothes I keep them until I wear them then recycle them, or if I’ve paid by card then it will go for shredding to put on the compost. Maybe we don’t need receipts for small things such as a bit of food but for major things like clothes we do in case we take them home, they don’t fit or something’s wrong with it so we can take it back with the receipt as proof of purchase.

  10. Jacqueline Fidone says:

    Wouldn’t burning receipts be bad because of the chemicals… because you then run the risk of inhaling the chemicals.

    I am trying to go zero waste and I too, am trying to find a solution of what to do with receipts. Hope someone can give me some insight.

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