A common experience, which sadly goes rather unnoticed in our daily lives, is walking out of a department store or a fast food restaurant or a coffee shop, with probably just one thing on your entire bill, but with a foot-long receipt. You don’t know why you asked for the bill to be printed, and you certainly don’t care either, as this bill is probably tossed right into the trash.
All of us may have done this an innumerable amount of times, but never really thought of what happens each time we get this receipt printed.
Experiences at ATMs are no good either. While most banks do their bit by giving customers an option of not generating the paper receipt, people still, mindlessly, get it printed, only to have a quick glance and feed it to a rather over-loaded ATM garbage bin.
It wasn’t until recently when I was clearing my extremely messy bag and an overly bloated wallet, and brutally trashing away my shopping bills that I realised that most of my bills had probably just one or two items. My life wouldn’t have been any different without this unnecessary use of paper. An email from the department store would’ve worked just fine, and that also works wonders if you’re organised enough to retain bills to keep track of your expenses for the month. The information on each of my bills could’ve probably been printed on a page just half that size.
There is no shortage of ways in which we are rapidly causing harm to the environment. Is getting these rather long bills printed necessary? Aren’t there ways in which we can, slowly, transition into printing shorter bills, and then not printing them at all, by generating bills electronically?
A Wikipedia search tells me that the receipts generated by your regular department store are printed on thermal paper, which is a special fine paper, that is coated with a material formulated to change colour when exposed to heat. The surface of the paper is coated with a solid-state mixture of a dye and a suitable matrix; a combination of a fluoran leuco dye as an example. When the matrix is heated above its melting point, the dye reacts with the acid, shifts to its coloured form, and the changed form is then conserved in a metastable state when the matrix solidifies back quickly enough. The reactant acid in the thermal paper is often bisphenol A (BPA).
BPA also comes with its share of health concerns and is widely concerned to be an endocrine disruptor. For the uninitiated, endocrine disruptors are chemicals that can interfere with endocrine (or hormones) at certain doses. BPA has been considered to be harmful by the European Chemicals Agency in 2017, and in 2012, the United States Food and Drug Administration (US FDA) banned the use of BPA in baby bottles.
People in contact with the chemical regularly, such as those working behind cash counters, are the most exposed to the risks of BPA. Around one million pounds of BPA, which is considered as an infamous pollutant, are released into the environment annually, as reported by the U.S. Environment Protection Agency which affects aquatic and plant life.
Banning these bills completely and immediately, may not fit right in the mindset of consumers, or may require government intervention. But cropping the size of these bills, creating awareness on their harmful side effects both on health as well as the environment, and encouragement by these large department stores to use e-bills are some ways in which we can, in a small way, contribute to the environment.
I hope with this article, each of us can commit to help reduce the huge debt that we already owe our extremely troubled environment.