Can I recycle my receipts? Most of them are thermal paper. If not, what can I do with it instead?
Thermal paper, the slightly shiny paper you’ll see most often in the form of receipts, contains chemicals that allow printing to happen through heat transfer, rather than with ink. One of chemicals thermal paper relies on is bisphenol A, or BPA, which has caused health concerns due to studies indicating that it is a “reproductive, developmental, and systemic toxicant in animal studies” and may disrupt the endocrine system. Yet thermal paper is the most common paper used for receipt printing nowadays. A 2011 study found that 94 percent of receipts tested contained BPA, and that receipts alone contributed an estimated 33.5 tons of BPA to the environment every year in the U.S. and Canada.
Because BPA may be tough to remove during the paper recycling process, and can find its way into new recycled paper products, some areas (such as Los Angeles) recommend or require that you don’t recycle thermal paper. Check with your local waste hauler to see if they have rules about it, but generally, we recommend that you keep your receipts out of the recycling bin.
Try to reduce the number of receipts that you collect in the first place. If paperless e-receipts are an option, consider having one emailed to you instead of getting a printout. Otherwise, ask your cashier if you can forgo the receipt entirely, then track the purchase manually or with a mobile app for your budgeting. If you’re a regular at a local business, you may even want to explain the situation and ask if traditional receipt paper and ink would be a workable option for them.
And if you still wind up with thermal paper receipts? Trash them if your hauler doesn’t accept them. If you’re concerned about privacy and identity theft, shred them, and look into your hauler’s rules about recycling shredded paper.