Do you know about the plastic recycling blindspot that clogs up our bags and pockets?

World Recycling Day reminded us that we all need to start taking a more holistic look at tackling pollution

Veronique Barbosa
Tuesday 19 March 2019 12:03
What is circular economy recycling

A landmark UN report has flagged plastic pollution as one of the world’s major emerging health threats and it seems, finally, that we are opening our eyes to an uncomfortable reality.

It’s fairly bleak. Our social media feeds are full of images of plastic straws, disposable coffee cups and carrier bags contaminating our waterways, suffocating our wildlife and irreversibly polluting our oceans.

Steps are being taken restaurants and cafes are getting rid of plastic straws; supermarkets are removing plastic bags or offering compostable ones. However, we all need to do a lot more, and quickly.

By focusing our efforts on single targets, we fail to take a more holistic view of the issue. We remain happily oblivious to other, perhaps more discrete but still damaging, culprits.

Let’s take one in particular that we’re so used to seeing scattered across our kitchen worktops, clogging our wallets and lining our pockets, that perhaps we don’t even notice any more.

I’m talking about paper receipts.

I need to declare an interest here. My company is trying to get companies to switch their receipts to banking apps using our technology. Society today loves to spend, so it stands to reason that most of us receive receipts every day. We feel good as we pack our groceries into our reusable totes, bring our own cup for our morning coffee to-go, or try to only buy clothes we’ll wear 30 times or more.

However, for many of us, environmental responsibility ends there.

We simply don’t think twice about the receipts that accumulate in our pockets as we go.

Most of us believe that because receipts are made with paper, they must be recyclable. But this is by no means the case. In the UK alone, around 9.9 billion receipts are left unused every year and the majority will not be able to be recycled. That’s because they are printed on shiny, slippery, thermal paper which contains Bisphenol A (BPA) or Bisphenol S (BPS), chemicals classified as toxic to humans and to the environment by the EU.

It is the same chemical found in single-use plastics including plastic straws and plastic bags. Even former President Obama finds it comical we’re still relying on paper receipts.

Those 9.9 billion receipts are the equivalent of 53,000 trees. That’s almost as many trees as Sherwood Forest and more than in all of London’s royal parks.

So why does no one care?

It’s not even that hard for consumers to make a change when it comes to their receipt usage. It means making a micro-change in our habits.

Several UK retailers are taking steps to drop receipts. Some offer you the option to get a receipt sent via email (with the convenient by-product of getting your email address at the same time). Companies like KFC and itsu have signed up to our service at Flux.

The problem is, receipts are boring.

In a world in which socially conscious consumerism often includes simply sharing the latest viral video or popping a meme onto our Insta stories, the truth is that receipts just aren’t as “Instagrammable” as other single-use culprits taking the environmental limelight right now.

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Paper receipts, however, are everywhere. Every year we print billions, at the cost of millions of trees, millions of barrels of oil and billions of litres of water.

World Recycling Day on Monday reminded us that all need to start taking a more holistic look at tackling pollution. Singling out a few hot-ticket items is a good start, but it’s just not enough.

Everyone – consumers, policy decision makers, retailers – needs to start taking responsibility for educating themselves about the impact of “hidden plastics” like receipts.

Start today. Only ask for receipts when you really need that paper copy. Pat retailers on the back who are making a change.

It is time to “beat the receipt”. And the time to do it is now.

Veronique Barbosa is co-founder of Flux, which provides technology for paperless receipts

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