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Receipt (Thermal) Paper

Navigation: Minimum Sustainable Recommendations | What are the Issues? | What are the Options?  

Did you know… In 2019, the U.S. consumed 280,000 metric tons of Point of Sale Receipts. Receipt paper use in the U.S. has the same greenhouse gas impact of having 400,000 cars on the road per year (Green America, 2020).

Minimum Sustainable Recommendations

Request receipt (thermal) paper with the following sustainable specifications:

  • Receipt (thermal) paper must be phenol-free, formulated without the use of phenol-based thermal developers.
  • Show preference for receipt paper that is Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Certified, and/or made of 100% recycled paper

Other things to consider:

  • Depending on the formulation of the phenol-free receipt paper, image life can vary greatly (1-10 years). Ensure to include image life expectancy in specifications for phenol-free receipt paper.
  • Determine if existing equipment (e.g. POS systems, ATMs, etc.) are capable of providing digital receipts as an option when a receipt is needed to avoid all environmental impacts associated with receipt paper.


What are the Issues?

Most receipt papers are coated with phenol-based chemicals called Bisphenol-A (BPA) or Bisphenol-S (BPS). These chemicals serve as colour-developers to make the text appear on receipts. When handled, the chemical coating is absorbed into our bodies. These chemicals are known endocrine disruptors and are linked to reproductive/fetal impairment, type 2 diabetes, thyroid conditions, and other health concerns. Receipts pose health risks especially to those who are in regular contact with the paper such as cashiers.

From an environmental perspective, the lifecycle of thermal receipt paper has significant impact from its production to disposal. Manufacturing paper is very energy and resource intensive. In the U.S. alone, the production of receipt paper consumes over three million trees and 34 billion litres of water per year (Source: Green America). The manufacturing process results in substantial amounts of greenhouse gasses being released into the atmosphere and therefore contributing to climate change.

Due to the phenol-based chemical coating, receipt paper is not recyclable in most jurisdictions and huge amounts end up in our landfills. Since receipts are made of paper, people mistakenly place them in recycling bins and recycling streams become contaminated. During the recycling process, the chemical coating from receipt paper (i.e. BPA/BPS) can leach out into wastewater and affect waterbodies downstream and surrounding wildlife.


What are the options?

Many manufacturers, retailers and businesses now recognize the environmental and health risks associated with receipt paper and are providing sustainable and safe solutions.

The most sustainable solution is to avoid using resources and not generate any waste at all. Many businesses now offer digital receipt options via e-mail, text or apps; and/or give customers the option to skip the receipt altogether. However due to accessibility concerns (e.g. no access to internet or smartphone, etc.), this is not always an option and paper receipts can still be required in some establishments.

Luckily, manufacturers have developed thermal paper options that are safer for human health and better for the environment. These options are made using phenol-free coatings and the paper is responsibly sourced. In addition, phenol-free receipt paper is generally accepted by recycling facilities in most areas since it is deemed non-toxic.

There are several phenol-free receipt paper options available in the market. One of the more popular options in retail establishments is receipt paper coated with a Vitamin C mixture. While Vitamin C gives the paper a subtle shade of yellow, it does not affect the visibility of text. Other phenol-free coating options are made of various polymeric substances that are deemed safe. Each type of phenol-free paper has its own advantages and disadvantages. For more information on phenol-free receipt paper and which type works best for your business, check out Green America’s “Skip the Slip – Environmental & Human Health Impacts of Paper Receipts” report .

Purchasing phenol-free thermal paper not only supports reducing health impacts, but because this paper is recyclable and is often responsibly sourced, it also supports low carbon and sustainable procurement.



Skip the Slip – Environmental & Human Health Impacts of Paper Receipts (Green America, 2020)

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