can you recycle receipts uk

Dear Wendy,

Can you recycle receipts? I’ve been chucking mine in with my recycling, but have started to have my doubts as the paper feels a bit different to standard paper.

Anne, Norfolk

Dear Anne,

Can you recycle receipts – what a good question! And one I can’t believe I’ve addressed in seven years of Moral Fibres!

Your hunch is correct – most receipts should not be recycled.

Why Can’t Receipts Be Recycled?

Most receipts can’t be recycled because of their composition. Most of the receipts we receive in shops are made from thermal paper.

This means that instead of using ink on standard paper, chemicals in the thermal paper react with heat in order to display the required text on your receipt.

In order for the paper to have these thermal properties, they are coated in BPA. BPA stands for bisphenol A and is an industrial chemical that has been used to make certain plastics and resins. Whilst research into the effects of BPA is ongoing, signs point to BPA having adverse health effects – even through skin, and as such recycling them is not recommended.

How To Dispose of Receipts?

Don’t recycle your thermal receipts – these can contaminate products made from recycled paper, such as toilet paper, with BPA. Composting will also contaminate your soil with BPA. It is frustrating, but the only thing that you can do to dispose of your receipt once you’re done with it is to put it into landfill.

If in doubt, thermal receipts are generally quite shiny, whereas standard recyclable receipts (like the ones you get at the post office) are more matt. If you were to apply heat to a thermal receipt it would turn black.

Why Do Shops Use Thermal Receipts?

Like most things in life, I suspect the reason that shops use thermal receipts over printed ones is that it all comes down to money and convenience. Shops don’t need to buy separate ink and till rolls. A thermal printer is probably lower maintenance than a printed receipt system which has more moving parts that can go wrong.

How Can I Avoid Receipts?

In the UK some shops offer to email your receipt to you. This is a good paperless and waste-free option, however, I don’t know about you but I’ve certainly found that uptake is slow on this with only a few stores offering this option.

In some shops, you can decline a receipt, which sounds like a straightforward answer to the problem, but sadly is only the case if you’re white. According to this report, 38% of people from ethnic minorities said they had been wrongly suspected of shoplifting in the last five years, compared with 14% of white people, with black people and women in particular more likely to be wrongly suspected. As a society, we have a long way to go before we can throw around advice like “just don’t take a receipt”.

And racial bias aside – in some shops, you can decline a receipt but it is still automatically printed – the cashier just pops it in the bin.

So as you can see, there’s no easy answer apart from probably what is the answer to most of our questions when it comes to living more sustainably – shopping less, and only for what we really need. I’m a broken record on this one, I know, but it really is the answer to most of our climate-related woes.

Thanks Anne for letting me discuss this one!  Got a question – email it to moralfibres@gmail.com and I’ll try my best to answer it here.

ps: in case you missed it, here’s the first in the series of Ask Wendy :)

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