Receipt paper can be recycled with other paper goods — but should it be? Photo by Green Mom

This new, semi-regular Q&A column comes to NYER courtesy of the Park Slope Parents Green Group and was written by PSP member Ella Ryan. PSP is a community of 5,500+ families living across Brooklyn, New York. For more information and how to join, visit parkslopeparents.com.


Can you recycle those slippery paper receipts you now get from virtually every retailer? The short answer is YES! NYC accepts any paper for recycling – the rule of thumb is if you can rip it, recycle it in the green-labeled paper bin.

However, you may have heard sinister things about these seemingly innocent slips of paper. So here’s the longer answer.

Unlike the old style paper-and-ink receipts, the shiny receipts are made of thermal paper that is coated with a chemical formula designed to change color when exposed to heat. Ink is no longer required for printing as the text of the receipt is essentially burned onto the paper.

However, the chemical coating often contains Bisphenol-A (BPA), a known endocrine disruptor that has been linked to fertility issues, neurological disorders and even heart disease. The coating is not bound to the paper and rubs off easily onto skin or whatever it comes into contact with. Not something you want to be handling every day right?

When people toss receipts printed on this kind of paper into the green recycling bin, it then contaminates the paper recycling stream with BPA. During recycling, huge amounts of water are used to decompose the paper into “slurry”, a process which rinses off chemicals such as BPA. The concern is that waste water discharge from recycling plants releases BPA back into our waterways where it threatens aquatic life and that some amount of BPA can end up into the final paper products (although this is probably not something to worry about). A few years ago these concerns led to many articles being published encouraging people to throw the receipts in the trash instead of the recycling bin.

Here in NYC our paper is processed by Pratt Industries on Staten Island. Their process filters and reuses water over and over. We weren’t able to get an exact figure on BPA removal rates at Pratt’s processing plant but, while it’s unlikely to be 100%, we are told they pride themselves on their environmental credentials and do their utmost to not release dirty water back into the City’s sewage system.

If we’re lucky this may become a non-issue very soon anyway as many manufacturers of thermal paper have acknowledged consumer concerns and turned away from BPA in favor of other compounds. There is even a bill (S87) currently awaiting a vote in the NYS Senate that proposes to ban BPA in all receipts.

Right now though, the problem is that there is no easy way of knowing what chemicals have been used to coat your receipt. In addition, some of the alternatives are not much better. One is Bisphenal-S (BPS) that has similar properties to BPA and persists even longer in the environment before breaking down.

So what can you do?

  • ALWAYS ask that a receipt not be printed! This reduces waste, saves water, and is the best way to protect yourself, your cashier and our environment from exposure to BPA or BPS from thermal paper.
  • If you do get a receipt, put it in the paper recycling bin. Don’t put receipts in the compost bin.
  • Talk to your local businesses and ask them to switch to e-receipts. If that’s not in the cards, ask what kind of thermal paper they use and urge them to switch to a non-phenol containing (ie without BPA or BPS) paper. Alternatives include paper coated with urea-based compounds (eg Pergafast) or, even better, ascorbic acid (such as Alpha Free).
  • Call/Email Senator O’Mara and other members of the Environmental Conservation Committee to tell them you support bill S87, banning BPA in receipts. Ask them to consider expanding the ban to also cover BPS and to recommend the bill for a floor vote ASAP.
    It doesn’t hurt to contact your state senate rep as well!

SOURCES

Note to Park Slope Food Coop members: Sadly, the Coop makes it impossible to refuse a receipt because you need one to leave the building, creating unnecessary waste. However, they are printed on paper free from BPA/BPS.