In July the Environmental Working Group reported that thermal-paper receipts from grocery stores, restaurants and ATMs can harbor high concentrations of bisphenol A, a hormone-disrupting plastic component that’s been linked to behavioral problems, obesity and other serious health concerns.
But now retailers can stock their registers with receipt paper that’s BPA-free—and they can prove it.
Appleton, Wisc.-based Appleton Paper, which owns 50 percent of the thermal-receipt-paper market, announced that it will embed visible red fibers, made of biodegradable cellulose fiber, in the backside of its BPA-free paper.
Appleton had acted ahead of the curve and ousted the chemical from its products in 2006. But prior to adding the red flecks, there’d been no way to tell whether a receipt was printed on Appleton paper—and therefore whether it contained BPA. And since the company doesn’t sell paper directly to retailers, employees and even managers may not have always know their store’s receipt paper origin.
Although BPA had come under fire mainly for its presence in food packaging and baby bottles, the EWG reported that “the total mass of BPA on a receipt is 250 to 1,000 times greater than the amount of BPA typically found in a can of food or a can of baby formula.” What’s more, research revealed that BPA can be transferred from paper to skin quickly and easily and penetrate deep enough that it cannot be washed off. And, according to EWG senior scientist David Andrews, PhD, “study results indicate that short or infrequent contact with BPA paper is similar to multiple contacts with BPA paper. That said, people who have constant dermal exposure to BPA, such as cashiers, have BPA levels up to 30 percent higher than the average adult.”
Instead of BPA, Appleton coats its thermal paper with bisphenol S, which also reacts with a printer’s heat to create visible ink yet hasn’t been proven to pose the same health risks. “From the research we’ve reviewed, we think BPS is a preferred alternative,” said Bill Van Der Brandt, Appleton’s manager of corporate communications. “We’re still looking at what the best options are. If there’s something out there that proves to better, we’re open to it.”
Luckily for retailers, switching to BPA-free thermal paper can be relatively easy. There’s no need to change printers, registers or other equipment, and BPS-laden paper yields comparable print quality. Also, Appleton doesn’t charge more for BPA-free paper. “All of this comes from the idea of it being the right thing to do. That doesn’t command a premium, so there’s no premium in the charge for it,” Van Der Brandt said.
Retailers that had switched to BPA-free paper upon the July reports will likely welcome the red flecks as a way to quash any employee or customer doubt about whether receipts really are BPA-free. Seattle-based PCC Natural Markets began using BPA-free thermal paper in all nine of its stores in August. “We had some customers make inquiries at the time, largely due to the attention this source of BPA was being given in mainstream press,” said Diana Crane, director of sustainability for PCC. “We had been using double-sided receipts for just over a year—a great savings on paper. But as soon as we were aware that the thermal paper we were using contained BPA and posed a potential—and easily removable—health risk to our staff and shoppers, we made the decision to switch.”
According to Crane, PCC will use the single-sided BPA-free paper until double-sided BPA-free paper becomes available. “A new double-sided tape is being tested right now,” she said.