Recycling Q&A: Should Thermal Paper Receipts Go In The Bin or The Garbage?

Recycling Q&A: Should Thermal Paper Receipts Go In The Bin or The Garbage?

  • Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series of recycling Q&A tips from Kane County Recycling Coordinator Jennifer Jarland. Got a question or idea for a recycling tip? Contact Jarland at 630-208-3841 or

We’ve run a few stories of late on the importance of recycling right, the dangers of “wish recycling” and reminding folks of the old adage, “When in doubt, throw it out!”

So, it’s good to see the phrasing in today’s Q&A. Instead of just putting receipts in the bin and “wish recycling,” people are asking the right questions.

Way to go, Kane County!

Q: Hi! Can thermal paper receipts be recycled or should I put them in the garbage?

A: Good question!

Here’s my longish answer:

Firstly … Some Background

In general, most receipts these days are made of thermal paper, which uses heat to imprint the receipt rather than ink. The plastic component that makes this possible is called bisphenol A.

I will not go into the effects that BPA has on human health in this article, other than to say that it is a known endocrine disruptor. The Internet has plenty more info on that.

Thermal Receipts Are NOT Recyclable or Compostable

Non-recyclable paper. (CREDIT: pressroom)

Thermal receipts do not pulp the same as other paper, so they are NOT actually recyclable and need to go in the trash. Furthermore, BPA remains in the fibers, which we do not want in recycled paper products like paper towels or tissue boxes!

For that very reason, they cannot be composted or burned either, because both processes release BPA into the atmosphere — soil or air.

Landfills are the safest place for them.

Stay Calm and Recycle On

(CREDIT: Sierra Club magazine)

I’m sure many of you are groaning that this is “yet another thing I can’t recycle,” but the reason I share these tips is so that we can all get better at recycling.

My hope is that rather than throwing your hands up in despair, you will be happy about the improvements you are making and the positive change you are bringing into the world!

With the aim of further easing your pain, I have to quote my favorite advice column hero, Mr. Green of the Sierra Club magazine:

“Trashing receipts is not the gravest of sins,” he said, “since they amount to a tiny fraction of all paper consumed, according to industry sources.”

Comedy Relief

Check out Ellen Degeneres’ take on “The Never-Ending Receipt.”

Go Paperless

Mr. Green also advises going paperless, which is of course the best practice.

“Opt out of getting a sales receipt in the first place, or ask the clerk to email it to you,” he said. “Speaking of clerks, they may be in more danger from BPA than the rest of us because they constantly handle thermal paper. By ditching the receipt, you’ll do yourself, the planet, and that hardworking sales clerk a favor.”

Many stores ask if you want your receipt or not, but if they don’t ask, just say that you please do not need/want a receipt! Especially if they are the mile-long coupon laden drug store receipts!

Personal Commitment

This is a growing edge for me personally, a gal who has always “balanced my accounts” at the end of the week by checking the statement against the receipts.

Also sometimes I actually do need a receipt for reimbursement if it is a work-related purchase.

But I am making a commitment today after the research I just did on this question, to go without receipts whenever possible!

P.S. For Retailers

There are BPA-free receipt roll options out there if you are concerned about the exposure to your employees!

Read More Recycling Q&A Articles!