BPA Risks in Cash Register Receipts

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.

Read the entire article about the EPA’s meetings with made BPA slip from its position as Chemical Public Enemy #1.

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 paperthe 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.

11 thoughts on “BPA Risks in Cash Register Receipts

  1. I heard you can request receipts to be e-mailed if you purchase from Apple, so there’s no need for receipts to be handled at the store. I have an e-mail address just for purchases so this might be an option.

    One question I have is how about carbonless checks and deposit slips. They are not thermal imaging papers but do they work in a similar way? How about those old fashion fax papers?

    Did you also hear that toilet papers made from recycled papers can also contain BPA since these thermal imaging papers are recycled and get mixed in when they manufacture toilet papers? Does that mean all recycled paper products, such as copy papers, can potentially contain BPA? How do BPA react when they are recycled?

    There are so many unanswered questions but one thing for sure, we don’t want BPA. It is disturbing that it is so pervasive in everything we use.

  2. Excellent reserach! And karen – yikes! That’s such a horrible thought! BPA in my TP?!?

    One quick question – are *all* of Appleton’s products BPA free? I went to check it out (being employed by a company that uses bajillions of thermal receipt rolls every year) and I’m surprised they don’t splash the BPA free info everywhere. In fact, I couldn’t find one single mention of it!

    • They are ALL BPA free–I’ve got this straight from the president’s mouth! I am not sure why they’re not publicizing it…possibly because they made the decision to go in a different (read: non-BPA) direction years and years ago before it was at the forefront of the public’s mind. I’m not sure…but after he and my husband talked, it’s very possible that they’ll start making more of this fact.

  3. Appleton is doing the right thing? it’s about time! I’m glad they’re doing right by their employees and customers, but when will they clean up the river they filled with PCBs in the 1970s? The dredgin barges still sit out there.

  4. We want to be sure at our store that we are not using BPA receipt paper. I also contacted Appleton. Unfortunately, they were only able to put me in contact with a business that takes their paper and turns it into receipt sized stuff. They were not able to connect me with a retail cash register receipt reseller. Three months in to my research and I still don’t have a vendor who can sell me guaranteed BPA-free cash register paper. Also, I have contacted the companies form whom we get our receipt paper and our shelf tag paper, and guess what? They have not gotten back to me with info on the BPA-content of their products. If anyone blogging or posting here has contacts for companies that retail BPA-free receipt paper, please let me know.
    Working with y’all for a BPA-free world for all,

    • David, I’ve forwarded your email to my husband’s company–hopefully a sales rep will be in touch with you soon! Your commitment to this cause is so admirable–so unfortunate that it has to be so difficult to achieve any progress. Good luck! Melissa AKA Enviro Girl

  5. As a retail worker naturally I am concerned about this. I would like to know what other chemicals the other paper options contain. Are there printers which use regular bond?

    • There are printers that use bond–trouble is, most cash register receipts are printed without ink these days–thus requiring the chemical layer to create the print! There’s no chemical in bond paper coming out of those old-school ink cash registers.

  6. I started cashiering at Walmart 4 months ago and have noticed that a number of my co-workers have very thin hair. My hair has started falling out in just the last month. It is scary to think that the cash register or tape could be causing this.

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