Paper receipts present potential hazard to the environment

Waste from receipts can bring harm to health as well as the earth

With the UN climate week approaching, the threat of damaging the earth has pushed regular citizens to rethink how their environmental footprint. Restaurants hand out paper straws instead of plastic and grocery stores give out reusable bags. Yet for the most part, paper receipts have been left out of the broader conversation.

“When I get paper receipts, I either decline them and watch them throw the receipt away, or I take the receipt and crumple it and throw it away,” said USC student Justin White. “Both make me feel bad.”

Some businesses on USC’s campus offer customers the option of an e-receipt. Others like the Illy coffee shop in Wallis Annenberg Hall print paper receipts automatically, despite students just throwing them away.

Paper waste from receipts pushed California Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) to propose a bill known as “Skip the Slip,” which would require businesses to provide electronic receipts unless a paper printout was requested. This new bill is similar to a recently passed California state law that requires plastic straws to be given to customers only upon request.

Throwing out receipts causes waste that Ting’s bill could help limit. “I usually throw out paper receipts,” said USC student Karen Kline. “It’s just extra paper that I don’t need.”

A 2019 report released by Green America found that every year in the United States paper receipts uses over 3 million trees and 9 billion gallons of water. During production, over 300 million pounds of solid waste and 4 billion pounds of carbon dioxide are created—the equivalent of 450,000 cars on the road.

Besides harming the environment, paper receipts can also hurt your health. A report released in 2016 by the Center for Environmental Health states that paper receipts contain BPAs (bisphenol A) that can lead to a host of issues including infertility, asthma, and heart disease.

To some USC students, e-receipts could solve the problems caused by paper receipts. “If you [shop at] Trader Joe’s just once and you type in your email, it makes the process the first time a little slower, but then you can just get email [receipts],” White said. “And emails are so great because we’re saving the trees.”