Sustainability • Rethinking receipts

Sustainability • Rethinking receipts

Almost every transaction we complete is promptly followed by a receipt.

High are the probabilities of the receipt reaching the bin before even reaching the client’s hands. 

So do we really need to print them? What is their impact?

Looking back in time, our ancestors used clay tokens to verify transactions: around 3200 BC the law in Babylon recognized only those verified with such a receipt, Egyptians adopted papyrus for tax records, traders kept written records to avoid exploitative taxations.

Since 1500, Gutenberg’s printing press began to be used for receipts. In 1890 the National Cash Register Company designed the cash register to generate receipts, which is in use today. The year 1969 saw the introduction of inkless printing on thermal paper, which brought a cost reduction as well as a more detailed receipt format. 

This paper is coated with a dye and a reactant acid, which activate with heat. The most commonly used acid is Bisphenol A (BPA): this chemical is considered to disrupt the endocrine system and induce abnormalities or other serious physical and genetical conditions. It can be taken up by the body and accumulate under exposure.

It is commonly found in:

  • polycarbonate plastic (recycling symbol No. 7), unless labelled ‘BPA free’
  • canned food and metal jar lids, which are considered the major source of exposure
  • airline boarding passes, luggage tags and lottery tickets
  • some water bottles, epoxy raisins, sealants and flame retardants


After significant concerns were exposed, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) adopted a restriction proposal on BPA stating that: “The Risk Assessment Committee considered that the risk for workers (e.g., cashiers) handling thermal paper is not adequately controlled. Significantly, RAC did not identify a risk for consumers.(ECHA, 2015).

BPA has often been substituted with Bisphenol S (BPS), which has also similar hormone disrupting effects. Further investigations will be carried out in 2017 by ECHA.



                             BPA                                                 BPS


A study published in 2015 by The University of California at Berkeley showed that higher levels of the chemicals are found in cashiers bodies, than of those in other occupations: “The first major finding demonstrates that individuals with potential occupational exposure to thermal paper receipts are more likely to have detectable levels of urinary BPA compared to individuals with unlikely occupational exposure” (Hehn, 2015). Thermally treated receipts are mostly not recycled as the chemicals contained have the potential of contaminating other paper.

It has been estimated that every year British customers receive some 11.2 billion paper receipts, which weight around the same as 1.380 male elephants, and can reach a length equivalent to 2 journeys to the moon and back.

A shift to e-receipts would mean enormous reduction in resources use, as no tree is sacrificed for the practice and no energy is employed to treat paper nor to print, even if receipts are mostly inkless. A significant reduction in waste and contamination risks would also be a result of the provision. 

Doing increasingly more things online, wouldn’t it be ideal to adopt digital receipts? It would also be easier to retrieve them. Wouldn’t it be time to re-think and step up?

Although customers might be concerned over their anonymity or over the use of their email such as potential advertising purposes, many shops ensure a no-marketing policy. 

At Tribu we have installed the Shopify system for payments since 2012, and it allows us to send a receipt directly to our customer’s email. If the client doesn’t have an email, a receipt will be written on request: this happened some 5 times since we rethought our payment system. Initially clients would hardly give consent in sharing their email, for concerns over privacy, but e-receipts are now more common in the marketplace.

In the hope of protecting nature, aligning with nature, and contributing to increasingly sustainable practices.

In the meantime try to stay away from the chemicals and wash your hands after handling! 


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