Everything is going digital—from streaming services to online learning. Gone are the days of filing out a receipt book by hand.

But there’s a particular item that has been analog for the longest time: paper receipts. 

While there’s been an increase in digital receipts, paper receipts are still provided to customers.

This situation begs the question: Is a paper receipt relevant today?

This article looks at both sides of the issue. 

The pros to paper receipts

Are paper receipts relevant? Comparison chart

Are paper receipts relevant? Comparison chart

a. Paper receipts are familiar and reliable.

A physical form of a receipt has been present in our timeline for nearly 9,500 years. 

Paper receipts were originally portrayed as clay balls in 7500 BC. Then, in 1969, thermal paper receipts were invented. Instead of using expensive ink cartridges, heat was used on thermal paper which became a common printing method as it was faster and more cost-effective. 

How thermal receipt paper is printed, Koehler Paper

How thermal receipt paper is printed, Koehler Paper

It wasn’t until early 2020 that digital receipts became more prominent—particularly due to COVID-19, which pushed businesses to increase contactless payment options.  

When something has been in place for a long time, like paper receipts, it’s difficult for everyone to transition from one format to another. A 2018 survey found that 68% of Americans prefer a paper receipt over a digital one. 

b. You don’t have to worry about security issues.

People who receive paper receipts don’t have to worry about security issues. Compared to a digital receipt, a customer doesn’t need to provide their phone number or email address to receive a receipt. 

Some might be concerned about using their debit or credit card when making a purchase, but The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) prohibits businesses from printing up to the last five digits of a card on a receipt.

Your debit/credit card information is censored except for the last 4 digits, UniBul

Your debit/credit card information is censored except for the last 4 digits, UniBul

Additionally, a survey found that people prefer paper receipts because they feel safer with a physical copy rather than a digital or electronic one.

c. There’s no extra technology to use.

Nearly 97% of Americans have a cell phone. But not all cell phones are smartphones with wireless capabilities to make contactless payments. While the number of smartphone users is high in the U.S. at 85%, that still leaves 15% of the population unable to receive digital receipts. 

With paper receipts, anyone can receive or decline a receipt making them accessible to all customers, including those without smartphones or internet access.

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Cons to paper receipts

a. Think about the environmental impact.

Paper receipts inflict environmental damage through paper consumption. In the U.S., paper receipts consume over 3 million trees and emit 4 billion pounds of CO2 yearly. 

Going digital could save billions of carbon emissions and millions of trees.

b. Too many receipts result in paper clutter or lost receipts. 

When you aren’t keeping track of your paper receipts, it can result in a pile of paper clutter. 

Searching through that paper clutter can be stressful without a paper organization system. A lot of time is wasted searching for lost items, including receipts, which can equal 3,680 hours or 153 days of searching per year. What’s even worse is after searching through your paper clutter, the receipt might still be lost

However, using a receipt scanner and organizer can help reduce the amount of physical clutter in your home or office. One excellent example of a service that can help you get to zero paper is  Shoeboxed’s Magic Envelope service, where you can use their prepaid Magic Envelope to send in a pile of receipts and have them do the scanning for you.

How to send your receipt with Shoeboxed’s Magic Envelope

With a digital or e-receipt, you don’t have to worry about paper clutter or losing a receipt ever again. It’s all on your device. You can easily search for what you need with the right digital filing system.

c. Thermal receipt papers are non-recyclable.

There’s been a lot of debate about whether or not paper receipts are recyclable. They should be since they’re made out of paper, right? Well, not exactly. 

There are three paper types of receipts: carbonless paper, bond/wood-free paper, and thermal paper. The first two paper types are recyclable. However, the most common type of paper receipts are made out of thermal paper.

Thermal paper is coated with Bisphenol-A (BPA) or Bisphenol-S (BPS) chemicals. These chemicals can not be easily removed in the paper recycling process. While there are alternative receipt materials called “phenol-free” paper, these alternatives are slightly more expensive.

Going paperless or using digital receipts will result in less physical waste.

d. Save money by going digital.

More on the business side of things, it costs money to buy paper rolls and print receipt paper. 

Each roll can cost between $2 and $ 10 for an average roll length of 16ft. Additionally, printing receipts cost between $0.015–0.05 per receipt resulting in spending $5,475 to $18,250.

Using a digital receipt format will save businesses thousands of dollars each year.

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Frequently asked questions:

Is receipt paper recyclable?

Paper receipts made out of carbonless paper and bond/wood-free paper are recyclable. If the receipt is made out of thermal paper coated with Bisphenol-A (BPA) or Bisphenol-S (BPS) chemicals, then they are not recyclable.

How much receipt paper is used each year?

Various resources provide different answers. But let’s just say it is a lot. The American Forest and Paper Association (AFPA) estimates that the US uses 181,000 tons of paper receipts per year. In comparison, Grand View Research estimates that 282,500 tons of thermal paper receipts are used each year.

Can a receipt paper fade?

Yes, paper receipts can fade, especially thermal paper receipts. Because of the way the thermal paper is printed, any contact with heat can completely turn your receipt black—rendering it unusable. Additionally, receipts can fade over time, get ripped, or become damaged due to exposure to light, moisture, or improper storage conditions.

In closing

Receipts, either paper or digital, are proof that a transaction occurred.  

While it is currently up to the customers to decide if they want a paper receipt, businesses can make the call to slowly transition out of paper receipts and into a more digital format.

Tammy Dang is a staff writer for Shoeboxed covering productivity, organization, and digitization how-to guides for the home and office. Her favorite organization tip is “1-in-1-out.” And her favorite app for managing articles and deadlines is Monday.com.

About Shoeboxed!

Shoeboxed is a receipt scanning service with receipt management software that supports multiple methods for receipt capture: send, scan, upload, forward, and more!

You can stuff your receipts into one of our Magic Envelopes (prepaid postage within the US). Use our receipt tracker + receipt scanner app (iPhone, iPad and Android) to snap a picture while on the go. Auto-import receipts from Gmail. Or forward a receipt to your designated Shoeboxed email address.

Turn your receipts into data and deductibles with our expense reports that include IRS-accepted receipt images.

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