Do you need a receipt? Why we should ditch tickets for the sake of our environment

We’ve all been there. Clearing out your wallet, empty of coins but heavily laden with receipts and old train tickets. Maybe searching for an elusive fiver between the worthless paper sheets. The organised or indecisive among us will save important slips in case of returns or expenses. But most of this paper will end up in the bin, achieving at best a glance and a sigh at the reminder of the money spent. 

Paper receipts seem like a relic of the past in our digital age and perhaps that is where they should be, considering the resources used to make them, and the hidden chemical trail they leave behind. 

Receipts and bisphenols

Bisphenol A, or BPA, is one of the most recognisable names in our modern arsenal of synthetic chemicals. Its normally associated with plastic reusable water bottles, where stickers invite us to buy ‘BPA-free’ as a ‘healthy’ or ‘environmentally friendly’ option. The irony is that in touching the receipt for our purchase we’re likely to be exposed to the very substance we were trying to avoid. This is because BPA is a common active ingredient in the thermal paper used to make receipts and tickets. Thermal paper can contain significantly more BPA [1]  than the trace levels found in plastic water bottles. BPA can be absorbed directly through the skin. BPA can be released during production of the paper, and recycling receipts can contaminate our waste stream, meaning BPA is also found in recycled paper products. 

Why are we concerned about BPA?

BPA has been a hotly contested chemical for many years now. It’s a known endocrine disruptor, which means it can interfere with our hormones.  Despite this, it has a myriad of other uses: as a raw material for hard polycarbonate plastic, as additives in other plastics such as PVC, as well as for thermal paper. It’s one of the highest production volume chemicals in the world, with around 8 million tonnes produced annually [2]. As a direct result this chemical is widespread in our environment and in our bodies. Over 90% of humans tested have been found to have BPA in their bloodstream according to multiple studies [3]. 

So, is BPA safe? The recommendations from authorities such as the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), are that the chemical is safe to humans, on the assumption that most of us are only exposed to very small doses. Many independent laboratory studies, however, indicate that BPA can affect human cells and animals even at very low levels of exposure, and the chemical has been linked to a whole host of medical problems including obesity, diabetes [4] and breast cancer [5] 

EFSA is in the process of re-evaluating their 2015 conclusion on health impacts. In the meantime, ongoing concern is reflected in regulation. Many countries have banned the use of BPA in baby’s bottles to protect young children from potential hormone-disrupting effects. The use of BPA in receipts will also be banned across the EU, though this legislation will not come into force until 2020 (and potentially after Brexit). This measure has been put in place specifically to protect the unborn children of pregnant shop workers, who are handling receipts for hours and days at a time leading to comparatively high exposure levels [6] 

And what about environmental impacts? We know that aquatic species are already being affected by concentrations found in water globally [7]. Fish have been shown to pass on impacts from BPA exposure to their offspring. BPA has been shown to interfere with gender determination in reptiles, that can cause turtles to be born that are unable to reproduce. Combine this with the broad environmental impacts of paper production and it’s a pretty damning case for the unwanted receipt. 

An A-Z of regrettable substitution

If a ban on BPA in receipts is just around the corner, why are we focusing on them? Unfortunately, the story does not end at a BPA ban. On the hunt for alternatives to this controversial chemical, other bisphenols such as BPS, BPF and even BPZ are being used to substitute a variety of uses of BPA. BPS is the cheapest, and most common substitute for thermal paper, and its use in receipts is growing. However, a similar structure often means these substances will behave in a similar way within the environment and our bodies. Although many of these alternatives are less well studied, new tests show these alternatives may have similar, and in some cases more harmful effects than BPA itself [8] 

Many NGOs are calling for a change in the way we legislate on chemicals, to avoid this kind of harmful substitution. Groups such as the ChemTrust call for chemicals to be legislated as structurally similar groups, putting responsibility onto industry to prove a chemical is safe. The ChemTrust’s ‘Toxic Soup’ report highlights how important this is in the case of bisphenols.  

Dr Anna Watson, Head of Advocacy at CHEM Trust said: 

BPA is well known to have endocrine disrupting properties, and it is worrying that a number of the other bisphenols are also being found to have similar hazardous properties. We need the regulators to phase out groups of chemicals of concern, such as the bisphenols, rather than slowly restricting one chemical at a time, which allows companies to move from one harmful chemical to another.  

We fully support FIDRA’s campaign calling on the industry to end the use of bisphenols in till receipts to protect people and the environment from these hazardous chemicals. 

A receipt-free future?

Luckily in the case of receipts, there are ways to avoid bisphenols entirely. If you need a receipt, there are paperless, digital options, and apps that can automatically sort and calculate your expenses. For those who just can’t do without paper, bisphenol free thermal paper does exist. It’s even possible to create thermal paper using vitamin C (though not sure if it counts towards our daily dose!).  

The evidence is strong enough to say no to bisphenols in receipts. Fidra is calling for industry to take proactive action to avoid ALL bisphenols, and end use of paper receipts, to protect workers and safeguard the environment.  

What can we do?

In the meantime, you can help us raise awareness and reduce your own receipt use:  

  • If you don’t need a receipt, just ‘stick it to the ticket’ and say no thanks!   
  • Given a long slip for a little purchase? Tweet us a picture of both @Fidratweets with #stickittotheticket

 

References

[1] Björnsdotter, M. K., de Boer, J., & Ballesteros-Gómez, A. (2017). Bisphenol A and replacements in thermal paper: A review. Chemosphere, 182, 691–706. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chemosphere.2017.05.070

[2] 2015 value – predicted increase to 10.6million tons by 2022 – Bisphenol-A – A global market overview [PRNewswire July 26, 2016]

[3] Covaci A, Den Hond E, Geens T, Govarts E, Koppen G, Frederiksen H, et al. 2015. Urinary BPA measurements in children and mothers from six European member states: Overall results and determinants of exposure. Environ. Res. 141:77–85; doi:10.1016/j.envres.2014.08.008 ; UBA. German Environment Agency. 2013. Kinder-Umwelt-Survey (KUS) 2003/06 – Human-Biomonitoring- Untersuchungen auf Phthalat- und Phenanthrenmetabolite sowie bisphenol A. Umweltbundesamt. ; Calafat AM, Ye X, Wong LY, Reidy JA, Needham LL. Exposure of the U.S. population to bisphenol A and 4-tertiary-octylphenol: 2003–2004. Environ Health Perspect. 2008;116(1):39–44. doi: 10.1289/ehp.10753.[PMC free article] [PubMed] [Cross Ref]

[4] Provvisiero DP, Pivonello C, Muscogiuri G, et al. Influence of Bisphenol A on Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2016;13(10):989. Published 2016 Oct 6. doi:10.3390/ijerph13100989

[5] Arunoday Bhan, Imran Hussain, Khairul I. Ansari, Samara A.M. Bobzean, Linda I. Perrotti, Subhrangsu S. Mandal. Bisphenol-A and diethylstilbestrol exposure induces the expression of breast cancer associated long noncoding RNA HOTAIR in vitro and in vivo. The Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, 2014; 141: 160 DOI: 10.1016/j.jsbmb.2014.02.002

[6] https://www.sgs.com/en/news/2016/12/safeguards-19416-eu-regulates-bpa-in-thermal-paper-under-reach

[7] Canesi, L., & Fabbri, E. (2015). Environmental Effects of BPA: Focus on Aquatic Species. Dose-Response13(3), 1559325815598304. http://doi.org/10.1177/1559325815598304

[8] Editor’s Highlight: Transcriptome Profiling Reveals Bisphenol A Alternatives Activate Estrogen Receptor Alpha in Human Breast Cancer Cells, Toxicological Sciences, Volume 158, Issue 2, 1 August 2017, Pages 431–443, https://doi.org/10.1093/toxsci/kfx101

Tags: , , ,

Comments are closed.