Take the Change, Leave the Receipt

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

You may want to think twice the next time a cashier hands over a receipt. 

Advocacy groups are warning that cash register receipts printed on thermal paper, which is used by most major grocery stores and retailers, are coated with bisphenol A, or BPA, the chemical suspected of contributing to health problems in women and children. 

BPA hardens plastic water bottles and the lining of metal food and soda cans, but is also considered a synthetic estrogen and an endocrine disruptor. Canada declared BPA a toxic substance in September and banned its use in baby bottles, as did Europe. 

Animal tests have linked BPA to reproductive and behavioral abnormalities and lower intellectual ability, as well as contributing to cancer, heart disease and asthma.

Research by the Environmental Working Group showed that BPA from thermal paper receipts is easily transferred and ingested by cashiers and shoppers.

The EWG also says you can perform an at home test to see if your receipt is printed on thermal paper by simply rubbing it with a coin. If the paper becomes discolored, then it is most likely thermal paper.  If there is no discoloring then it is conventional paper. They recommend not to recycle thermal paper receipts because the BPA residues can contaminate the recycled paper.

The group, Pacific Northwest Pollution Prevention Resource Center also strongly advises not to put thermal paper receipts into the recycling bin. Although, BPA breakdown is slightly restricted in landfills, they say the consequences of recycling it are far worse. While, the production of thermal paper accounts for the smallest percentage of BPA uses, recycling it creates the largest source of BPA entering wastewater treatment facilities. And the chemical cannot be removed when treated, so large volumes of it find its way into surface water, disrupting marine organisms and ecosystems. 

Also, recycling BPA coated materials can contribute to the contamination of paper recycling plants and new paper products. These recycled new products, which have been found to contain more BPA than non-recycled new products, are then often made into food packaging containers, thereby increasing the risk of crossover into foods. Even though BPA will breakdown quickly in soil through aerobic processes, the group also suggests keeping receipts out of composts as a way to reduce exposure levels. Their final recommendation is that thermal paper receipts should be placed in the trash to reduce the release of BPA, because, at least in landfills, there will be some opportunity for the chemical to breakdown. 

As of yet, no cities or towns offer specific instructions as to the proper disposal of thermal paper receipts. Including the state’s recycling center, Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation.

Sarah Kite, the director of recycling services at RIRRC, said none or the paper mills that receive collected paper from Rhode Island have rules regarding the suspect receipts. “No, thermal paper isn't an issue with our customers, as far as we know.” She added, “none of our paper customers have reported any issues with store receipts. If people take them, they can, and should, be recycled.”