The Environmental Cost of Paper Receipts

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Climate change is one of the biggest challenges of our time. With the effects of climate change being felt all over the world, and extreme weather events now increasing in frequency, concern over the issue is rising. 

Increasing numbers of consumers are making buying decisions based on the environmental impact of products and the carbon footprint of the brand in question. Goods made using recycled materials are becoming incredibly popular, as are products that can easily be reused time and time again. 

Many of us are now making real changes to the way we live, and the way we shop, for the benefit of both ourselves and the planet. Yet relatively few of us have considered the part the humble paper receipt plays in this. 

Paper receipts are a huge part of the problem. They can’t be recycled, they’re almost always thrown away within days, and for most purchases they’re completely unnecessary. Unfortunately, their impact on the environment is also far more significant than most of us will have ever imagined. 

The carbon footprint of a paper receipt 

A paper receipt has a considerable carbon footprint. A typical paper receipt will emit 2.5g of carbon during its lifetime. 

This estimated carbon output includes all stages of a paper receipt’s production, together with any time spent in transit from a production facility to a warehouse and then eventually the store where it’ll be used. The receipt then ultimately makes another journey and ends up in landfill, contributing further to its carbon emissions. 

The problem of paper receipts is exacerbated quite considerably by the sheer amount of paper receipts that are made, printed and thrown away every single day. It’s been estimated that over 11.2 billion receipts are printed in the UK annually. That’s 30,684,931 receipts per day. 

The enormous number of receipts being printed all over the world comes at a real cost in terms of CO2. It brings a reported 28,000 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere, the equivalent to 10,000 flights across the world. And removing this amount of CO2 is no mean feat. It could be done, but it’d take a whopping 1,100 football pitches worth of natural parkland to do so. 

Would recycling solve the problem? 

When we think of the eye-watering numbers of receipts making their way to landfill every day, a natural response would be to think about recycling them instead. But most paper receipts can’t be recycled.  

Paper receipts cannot be recycled because over half of them contain a chemical called  Bisphenol-A, or BPA. Many are also coated with Bisphenol-S (BPS), another chemical which is used to enhance the appearance of the text and make it easier to read. The BPA is the real problem here though – it’s the reason receipts aren’t recyclable. 

If paper receipts were recycled, the chemicals in them would start to contaminate all kinds of other recycled products, causing untold damage to the world around us as these products began to circulate unchecked. 

Incidentally, the same chemicals used in paper receipts are also found in single-use plastics – another key concern for those looking to banish harmful waste and promote recycling. 

BPA isn’t just a danger to the environment. It can also lead to serious health issues in humans, particularly for retail staff who handle paper receipts all day long. 

Touching a receipt for a matter of seconds can cause the chemical to be absorbed into the body. A build up of these chemicals can then contribute to developmental and reproductive issues, which are detrimental to humans as well as aquatic life. 

What do paper receipts mean for the planet? 

As the numbers of paper receipts being used each day has skyrocketed, their impact on the planet has grown by a considerable amount. 

Paper receipts are of course made using paper, which means that trees must be cut down in order for them to be produced. Every year, an estimated 200,000 trees are destroyed solely for the production of paper receipts. 

You don’t need us to tell you that 200,000 is a huge number of trees – particularly when we consider that almost all of those paper receipts will be headed straight to landfill! Did you know that the eight Royal Parks in London, when combined, still contain fewer than 200,000 trees. And all those trees are being wasted every single year. 

Trees are of course essential to our life here on planet Earth. Not only do they stabilise the environment, they also remove harmful particles and pollution, cleaning the air we breathe. Without them there’d be no oxygen, and no life at all. Trees are also vital in the fight against global warming, as they help to remove carbon dioxide from the environment. 

Water is another vital resource, with many projects now centred around the reduction of water waste. Sadly, the production process of the thermal paper used in paper receipts requires a considerable amount of water. 

Current estimates suggest that 1.6 billion litres of water are used during this process each year. That amount of water could sustain 1.5 million people. 

The contamination of water is also a concern when we look at the impact of paper receipts on the environment. The chemicals used to make paper receipts are now finding their way into waterways, causing untold damage to aquatic life. As time goes on, this problem will only intensify. Unless we do something about it. 

Switch to digital receipts today 

Paper receipts are enormously damaging for the environment. They come at a huge cost, both in terms of carbon emissions and waste. And in almost all cases, this is completely unnecessary. 

Paper receipts can easily be replaced by digital versions, which provide a whole host of benefits for brands and consumers alike. Not only are paper receipts better for the planet, they’re also more convenient for customers and they come with a number of brand new marketing opportunities that brands can use to their advantage. 

If you’d like to find out more about what making the switch to digital receipts could do for your business, get in touch with our team. 
Our software is used by retailers around the world to identify in-store customers through digital receipts, and connect 100% of in-store transactions into any platform they use in real-time. Contact us and we’ll show you how it works.