Can You Recycle Receipts?

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With all the shopping we do, particularly around the holidays, many people are asking if you can recycle receipts. The short answer is no, but there’s some details worth knowing when it comes to recycling receipts.

Most receipts nowadays are printed on thermal paper. Receipts used to be printed using ink on plain paper, but thermal printing involves no ink and makes printing much quicker and quieter. With thermal paper, numbers and items listed for the stuff you bought seem to appear magically. When paper passes over a thermal print head, the chemical coating on the paper turns black on the areas of the receipt where it is heated, producing an image.

recycle receipts
Most receipts are printed on a thermal paper.

It is the smooth, chemically-treated aspects of this type of paper that make it not recyclable and it should be placed in the trash. It’s inevitable that receipts get thrown in with the mixed paper because people want to recycle them and they’re easy to throw in the bin. When all is said and done, receipts don’t make up all that much of the total paper processed by a paper recycling plant. Some thermal papers are coated with the chemical Bisphenol A, or BPA, and this material can contaminate recycled paper, and brings down the quality of higher-grade paper when it is mixed in.

There is BPA-free and phenol-free thermal paper available, and BPA becomes a lot more of a concern when it comes to its use in food containers. Questions about food safety were raised by the Center for Environmental Health and other groups. Suffice to say, you’d need a lot of direct exposure with thermal receipts for the BPA in them to pose a threat, but it is worth noting.

This article provides general guidelines, but remember to always check with your local recycling center, as policies vary from city to city.

Chemistry is FUN! If you have a little free time, see what happens when you hold an open bottle of nail polish remover over the smooth side of the thermal paper. The same thing happens if you use a hair dryer or other heat source. If you come across a roll of blank receipt paper, you can draw on it using the heated tip of a glue gun without the glue stick. Image: complexify

Check out our article on folding paper crafts to see how receipts can be recycled into fun flower petals and butterflies origami-style.

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