Have you ever wondered what your receipts are made of? Did you know that some types of receipt paper might be harmful to your health and the environment?
In this post, we’ll go through the most common kinds of paper used for receipts and discuss the top health and environmental issues regarding these materials.
3 common types of receipt paper
What kind of paper is used to make receipts?
There are three popular types of receipt paper currently on the market: thermal paper, wood-free paper, and carbonless paper. Let’s have a look at each type of receipt paper.
1. Thermal paper
Thermal paper is very different from the usual white paper we use to write or draw on. What makes thermal paper special is a chemical coating on the surface of one side (also called the thermal side). When exposed to heat, the coating turns black and imprints an image or text. In other words, thermal receipt paper doesn’t need ink, ribbons, or toners – it relies on the heat-sensitive pigments in the chemical coating to generate receipt details. That’s also why these papers are called ‘thermal’!
Thermal papers have a bright and smooth coating layer, so you can tell if your receipt paper is thermal or not by touching its surface. Another tip to identify thermal receipt paper is to scratch your receipt’s printable side. If it leaves a dark mark on your receipt, it is thermal receipt paper. Scratching produces enough heat to cause a chemical reaction and generate an imprint.
A heat source near a thermal receipt paper
Thermal paper is the most widely used type of receipt paper. You likely come across it daily as debit and credit card machines, ATMs, and POS systems all issue thermal receipt papers. For businesses that still use fax machines, those use thermal paper too. Thermal paper is popular amongst businesses because it’s cost-effective. There’s no need to pay for expensive ink cartridges to print receipts.
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2. Traditional bond paper (wood-free paper)
Traditional bond paper, also known as wood-free paper, is a must-have item at many offices. Take a look in your office’s printer tray – there’s a pretty high chance there’s some A4-size bond paper in there!
When comparing bond receipt paper to thermal receipt paper, it’s easy to see the significant difference. Neither side of the bond paper has a coating chemical layer, so its surface looks less bright and smooth than thermal paper. As a result, the method of printing text on bond paper is different too. The nozzles of the printer’s printhead release liquid ink onto particular places on the bond paper as it goes through the machine. The paper absorbs the ink to produce receipt text in those exact areas.
3. Carbonless paper
Another option for printing receipts is to use carbonless paper. Carbonless paper, sometimes also called “No Carbon Required” (NCR) paper, comes in many formats, depending on the number of copies you need. However, it typically contains two or three-ply, and the top copy often goes to customers while business owners keep the rest for documentation purposes.
A carbonless receipt paper roll consists of three layers: coated on the back (CB), coated on the front (CF), and coated both back and front (CFB). Carbonless paper is coated with small chemical capsules that enable it to generate copies without a carbon paper sheet. There are two types of coats: the back coat and the front coat. When someone presses or writes on the back coat, it reacts using minute capsules of ink. The ink capsules explode when the page is pressed, leaving a mark on the page below. Because these capsules are so small, they generate an exact replica of the writing on the top sheet. The front coat is constructed of a reactive clay layer that interacts with the ink to leave a lasting imprint.
Source: NextDay Paper
Is receipt paper bad for your health and the environment?
According to Chicago Health, approximately 93% of thermal paper receipts contain hormone-disrupting chemicals bisphenol A (BPA) or bisphenol S (BPS), which our bodies can absorb when we touch the receipts. The chemicals have been shown to be harmful to reproductive systems in humans and animals and are related to obesity and attention disorders. You can find more information in the following studies:
- BPA coats cash register receipts
- BPA and BPS in thermal paper: Results of testing in Minnesota hospitality industry (p-p2s10-13)
Additionally, to create paper receipts each year, the U.S. uses 12.4 million trees, 250 million gallons of oil, and 13 billion gallons of water. It generates 1.5 billion pounds of waste and 4 billion pounds of CO2, according to the non-profit organization Green America’s research Skip the Slip (2018). What makes thermal receipt papers more problematic to the environment is that they cannot technically be recycled, as their chemicals would contaminate other recyclable paper products.
Let’s go paperless!
What can you do to reduce your exposure to thermal receipt papers? An easy way is to go digital. If you can ask for an e-invoice through email, go for it! Otherwise, if the business only offers paper receipts, you can use the Shoeboxed receipt scanner app (for free) to digitize it within seconds. Then, you don’t have to keep and handle paper receipts anymore! All the important data you need from the receipts are securely stored on your devices, minimizing your contact with receipt paper. With many other great features, Shoeboxed can also help you organize receipts in the best way possible!
Try Shoeboxed right now for free!