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Paper Receipts: Their Enormous Toll on the Environment and Public Health

Paper Receipts: Their Enormous Toll on the Environment and Public Health
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“Would you like a copy of your receipt?”

We encounter this question more often than we realize, whether it’s verbalized by a cashier or stated on a payment screen. Think of the morning cup of coffee you grab regularly, the deli you frequent at lunch, the trip to the gas station on the way home from work (and dare we say it, the snack or pack of gum you grab from the gas station’s convenience store).

Sure, these paper receipts are a reminder of the hard-earned cash we’re spending on coffee and gum, but they — too — have a cost. We know there's no such thing as a free lunch; the same is true for the ubiquitous, tiny pieces of paper that complement nearly every financial decision we make.

They float in our wallets, escape into seat cushions, crumple in pockets, fly into waste baskets or decay in boxes that are shelved and forgotten. But let’s back up: Why do businesses print receipts in the first place?

Paper Receipts: Costs and Environmental Impact

For both the customer and the business, a paper receipt is proof of purchase. For the customer, it can enable refunds or reflect the agreed-upon cost of a transaction if a discrepancy is found. For a business, a signed receipt proves that the customer authorized a transaction in the event of a chargeback.

That said, paper receipts are an expensive relic for businesses to manage and offer less and less value for customers who prefer the convenience of the cloud over their pockets. Paper receipts are printed on thermal paper that is susceptible to damage via heat exposure, fading, ripping or loss. The cost of receipts adds up quickly, totaling up to $900 to get setup, and a few hundred dollars every month for storage and supplies.

Businesses, if you can believe it, will sometimes save receipts in storage for up to seven years to defend themselves from chargeback disputes.

Environmentally, we’re speaking an entirely different language. According to The Huffington Post, producing paper receipts takes:

  • 250 million gallons of oil
  • 10 million trees
  • 1 billion gallons of water

And that’s just for one year … in the United States alone.

That scale is tremendous, and you don’t need to be an active environmentalist to realize that this is a practice with diminishing returns. Arguably worst of all, printed receipts can’t be recycled because they are printed on chemically treated thermal paper, which poses another largely overlooked threat.

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How Paper Receipts Can Harm Your Health

The environmental impact narrative might not persuade you to adopt a new approach for your business or personal approach. But would the risk to your health do the trick?

Thermal paper receipts contain BPA, an endocrine disruptor. This chemical can seep out of products and into our bodies through skin contact. BPA resembles the hormones our bodies produce, and can result in developmental, reproductive and neurological problems, according to The New York Times. Cashiers who experience heavy contact with receipts are at risk, as are people who choose to obtain a printed receipt for every transaction they make each day.

Paper Receipts Replacement: Digital Signatures

So, how can you adapt either your business or your daily practices to move away from printed receipts? Sure, as a customer you could opt to not receive a receipt, but that puts you at risk if you end up needing proof of purchase down the road. Plus, this doesn’t address the business’s need to maintain transaction records.

Luckily, there are a number of Merchant Account Providers and Payment Facilitators that offer email receipts and digital signature capture. Fewer offer remote signature capture for orders taken over the phone.

The digital age is here and thriving, offering businesses and customers alike easy searchability of receipts via the cloud or email, reducing the risk of loss and saving businesses hundreds of dollars monthly in storage costs. Along with a tree ... or 10 million for the environment.

Electronic signatures offer numerous benefits.


Is your business still printing paper receipts for customers? Does paper receipt management take up time and money for your business? Share your story in the comments below; we’d love to hear from you!

Editor's Note: This post was originally published in October 2016 and has been updated for comprehensiveness and accuracy.

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Picture of Christina Lavingia

Christina Lavingia

Christina Lavingia delights in crafting content that helps business owners fight fraud, reduce risk and process payments with ease.

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