Backers of California's Paper Receipt Crackdown Overhype 'Skip the Slip'

A California bill to crack down on paper receipts relies on scare tactics and misinformation.


They're at it again. On Thursday the California Assembly passed a bill that would require customers to request a paper receipt before they can be given one.

"Most of us don't need a physical receipt for every transaction. It doesn't make sense to kill so many trees and unnecessarily expose people to toxins for something we don't often need," said the bill's sponsor, Assemblyman Phil Ting (D–San Francisco), after its passage. The bill now moves to the state Senate.

Starting in 2022, A.B. 161 would forbid businesses from providing customers with a traditional paper receipt unless they ask for one. Beginning in 2024, businesses would also be required to provide digital proof of purchase should a customer so request.

Cash-only businesses, health care providers, and retailers doing less than $2 million in business each year are exempted from the bill. Should you be caught printing up receipts in violation of the law, you'll get two warnings, after which you could be fined up to $300 a year.

To make the environmental case against receipts, Ting's bill relies on a report from Green America. The D.C.-based group's "Skip the Slip" report cites Grand View Research, a market research firm, which puts the amount of receipt paper used at 282,000 tons a year. The American Forest and Paper Association (AFPA) estimates that the U.S. goes through about 181,000 tons of paper receipts year.*

But this is a tiny fraction of even California's own paper waste. According to analysis from the California Assembly's Committee on Natural Resources, 17 percent of waste deposited in California landfills, roughly 5.95 million tons, is comprised of paper.

No state-specific data exists on receipt usage. But for the sake of argument, let's assume per capita receipt consumption is uniform across the country.

Given the state comprises 11 percent of the country's total population, this would mean Californians use 11 percent of all the country's receipts, or 31,000 tons. (That's relying on the highest estimate of receipt paper consumption.) That would mean receipts make up .5 percent of the state's paper waste, and .08 percent of total waste.

Even if all of the country's receipts were dumped in California, they'd still comprise about 5 percent of its paper waste and at most 1 percent of total waste.

Ting and Green America say receipts also pose a health risk because they contain Bisphenol-A (BPA) and Bisphenol-S (BPS).

"Implementing phenol-free paper is an essential immediate step to ensure worker and customer health," says Green America's report. A press release from Ting's office similarly calls the public health impacts of receipts "especially alarming."

But both the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) have said that the levels of BPA found in food containers and packaging are safe, and do not pose a risk to consumer health. In 2015 the EFSA—generally a hypercautious group—released a report concluding that "BPA poses no health risk to consumers of any age group…at current exposure levels."

Meanwhile, paper receipts are popular. A May poll from Tulchin Research found that 72 percent of California voters prefer paper receipts.

In short, receipts are a tiny, tiny fraction of paper waste, and safety watchdogs in both the U.S. and Europe have found that they do not pose a health risk.

If California legislators really wanted to reduce unnecessary paper consumption, they should consider printing fewer nonsense bills.

* CORRECTION: The original version of this article misstated the weight of receipts cited in Green America's report. This article has also been revised to remove statements about the involvement of Green America Board of Directors Chairman and Dharma Merchant Services CEO Jeff Marcous in the legislation.