Recently the Eco Women passed around an article about BPA (bisphenol-A) coating receipt paper. Enviro Girl just happens to sleep with be married to a guy who’s part-owner of a company that makes cash register receipts (among other things). Together they did a little research and this is what they learned:
1. There are two types of paper used in cash register receipts: bond which is plain paper like what you write on and thermal-coated which is coated with a chemical that reveals marks when struck–this is the more popular type of receipt paper because it doesn’t require ink–the cash register merely bangs the information onto the receipt and the thermal coating reacts to the impact and heat, creating the images on the paper.
2. BPA was created to coat plastic in 1939. BPA is used to stabilize the chemicals on thermal-coated paper so the receipt paper doesn’t take on every mark from every single thing touching it, and it better preserves the marks on the paper.
3. BPA has been totally banned in Japan because of health concerns.
4. Thermal coating is what makes those receipts slippery and difficult to write on with a pen.
5. BPA is much more unstable when used on paper than it is on plastics (see Science News to learn more).
6. BPA’s use in plastics is to prevent the chemicals from becoming brittle and degrading (as the chemicals in plastic are wont to do).
7. The major health concern with BPA is that it has been linked to cancers and other diseases, it disrupts estrogen levels. The chemical BPA leaches out of the plastics it is used in (generally Plastic No. 7 has BPA) when the plastic becomes unstable because of heat or breaking apart. TIME magazine published this report, which Enviro Girl deems mainstream enough to link to in this post for readers who wish to know more about the studies regarding the health risks with BPA.
8. Last week the FDA backpedaled on its stance on exposure to BPA being dangerous. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel gives the entire story here. Coincidentally, this switch in position followed meetings between the EPA and heavy-hitting lobbyists from the chemical industry.
Records show that six representatives of the American Chemistry Council were at the meeting. So was a lobbyist for SABIC Innovative Plastics, a Saudi Arabian company and one of the world’s leading BPA makers.
Minutes of the meeting show that the industry lobbyists presented a letter from Cal Dooley, president and chief executive officer of their group, saying that the government’s designation of a “chemical of concern” would have a negative impact on his industry’s sales.
Dooley asked that government regulators give chemical companies early notice on any plans to regulate the chemicals before telling the public. Dooley’s letter addresses the negative financial impact on all chemicals when they are subjected to government regulation, and he held out BPA as having been especially affected.
9. The only provider of BPA-free thermal coated cash register receipt paper is Appleton Paper. Because Japan had banned BPA, the company decided to go with a different chemical coating. They were concerned both about the health risks to their employees who would handle BPA-coated paper all day long in their mill and consumers.
10. BPA is less expensive to use than the chemical that Appleton Paper is using to thermal-coat paper. This is the primary reason BPA is used in receipt paper: the final product costs less than a safer product.
So what’s an eco-warrior to do about BPA on receipts? If you own a business, you can switch to a different type of register paper. If you work at a business, you can explain your concerns to the owner. You can opt out of receipts as a consumer OR request a receipt printed on bond paper to insure your safety. The people most harmed by BPA in receipts are those people touching it frequently–not the occasional shopper, but retail workers and people working at paper mills producing thermal coated paper.
The jury is still officially “out” on the issue of BPA, but rest assured, you are coming into contact with it every time you touch a cash register receipt. BPA isn’t just found in plastics.