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Calls for major change in Australia over little-known receipt detail: 'Alarming'

The small pieces of paper are making a massive impact.

Shocking new research has revealed Australia prints a whopping 10.6 billion paper receipts each year and because most are coated with toxic chemicals, they can't be recycled, which is taking a huge toll on our environment.

The report, titled The Life Journey of an Average Receipt, showed that printing paper receipts was the equivalent of producing 96,227 metric tonnes of carbon — or having 20,918 cars on our roads — and generated the same amount of energy that could power 18,500 homes.

Funded by a CSIRO grant, the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) study was commissioned by Aussie start-up Slyp, which aims to reduce the amount of paper receipts headed for landfill, in favour of digital versions connected to banking or business apps and delivered through smart devices.

Hand receipt
Australia produces 10.6 billion paper receipts each year but Aussie start-up Slyp wants us all to go digital. Photo: Slyp

"UTS did a six to 12-month research project, it was extremely thorough, on the lifecycle of the receipt supply chain. It was certainly more alarming than what we anticipated and demonstrates the reason for change, and change takes a village or an army, as they say," Slyp CEO Paul Weingarth told Yahoo News Australia about the world-first study.

As the average length of a receipt is 27.85cm long, the amount Australia produces each year would extend 2.95 million kilometres, meaning they could stretch from the Earth to the Moon, a distance of 384,400km, a staggering 7.6 times. "It's a lot of paper," Weingarth said.

The hidden toll of paper receipts

The study, which compared environmental costs of paper receipts to sustainable digital alternatives, also delved into the supply chain impact, where there were further surprises. According to the report, producing receipts in Australia every year uses up 150,462 trees, 1.56 billion litres of water, 96,227 metric carbons of energy, and 104.7 million kilowatts of energy. By comparison, digital receipts use zero trees, no water, 3,037 metric carbons of energy and 7.1 million kilowatts of energy.

Another eye-opening fact is that most receipts are printed on thermal paper, coated with chemical Bisphenol A (BPA), making them non-recyclable and 1,000 times more toxic than BPA exposure on a plastic bottle. "Thermal paper is a special kind of fine paper that is coated with a chemical that changes colour when exposed to heat, instead of using ink for printing," the report states.

Slyp CEO Paul Weingarth; Smartphone displaying digital receipt alert
Slyp CEO Paul Weingarth wants Australia to dump paper receipts in favour of digital alternatives sent directly to smart devices. Photo: Supplied

The health impacts of thermal paper receipts have also been called into question due to the possible effects on human hormones, with research suggesting links between BPA and increased blood pressure, fertility issues, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Some retailers including Coles and Woolworths said they had already stepped away from using BPA coating, while key players including Amazon, Google, NAB, Chemist Warehouse and the Australian Retailers Association are collaborating with Slyp in its vision to create digital alternatives.

Digital receipts the way forward

While receipts are a key part of the transaction exchange between a buyer and seller, Mr Weingarth said 40 per cent of Aussies had stopped carrying a wallet or bank card and used smart devices to make payments. Therefore, it made sense for receipts to be received digitally through a banking app or Apple Wallet allowing customers to "pay and walk away".

"By switching to a digital-first mindset, we can create a transaction experience that's not only more convenient for the customer but also more environmentally friendly for our planet," Mr Weingarth said.

Coinciding with Black Friday sales, Slyp has spearheaded a consortium of key industry players called FutureProof to transform the way Aussies receive and manage receipts. "In partnership with the government, we are working together to affect change," Mr Weingarth said. "It's exciting."

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