What harm could it do? Fidra check out the risk of receipts

Receipts, seemingly pointless pieces of paper that are often annoying and occasionally necessary, but always harmless, right? Well may be not. Most receipts contain bisphenols. Bisphenols are a group of chemicals which are under increasing scrutiny due to their ability to interfere with hormones. The European Chemical Agency has classified bisphenol A (BPA) as a substance that has “toxic effects on our ability to reproduce” [1]. Bisphenols are being found in rivers, lakes, soils and wildlife, as well as humans, and can change the fertility of trout and the sex of frogs [2].  In January 2020 the EU is banning bisphenol A (BPA) in receipts because of the risks posed to shop workers [3]. But with BPA on the way out there are plenty more bisphenols, which are also of concern, that are waiting to take BPA’s place. Fidra have been speaking to retailers to find out what is on their receipts and how they plan to protect the health of their staff, customers and the environment.

Bisphenol bans and where to find them

Bisphenols are one of the most widely produced and used groups of chemicals across the world [4]. Bisphenol A is the most well studied bisphenol, and due to mounting evidence of its impacts on growth and reproduction, it is now banned on a number of sensitive items, such as baby products. However, there is an uncomfortably low level of haste to regulate bisphenols as a group of chemicals and restrict bisphenols in a wider range of products.  However, we are delighted that the EU plans to bring in legislation banning one bisphenol – bisphenol A (BPA) – in receipts from January 2020.

To avoid ‘regrettable substitution’, where a banned substance is replaced with a very similar alternative, we’ve been highlighting to retailers the concerns around other bisphenols and the environmental impacts of receipts. Fidra are encouraging retailers to consider their receipting options including offering receipts only as requested, digital receipts and using phenol-free alternatives in till paper.

What’s in your shop?

We have had discussions with many well-known high street retailers and supermarkets in the UK, with the majority expressing that they are exploring their receipts options in anticipation of the ban.

The table published on our bisphenol webpage gives a clear outline of which supermarkets are leading the change to protect us, and our environment, from further chemical pollution.

So, what have we found out?

  • Lidl have confirmed that they haven’t used bisphenols in their receipts since 2010 risks were too great
  • Around 65% of supermarkets we spoke to, and both Screwfix and B&Q (owned by Kingfisher), have indicated that they will move away from bisphenol coatings entirely once the ban on BPA is introduced in January 2020
  • The other 35% of high street supermarkets, and Boots, confirmed that they are considering options and will be aligned with the legislation to remove Bisphenol A from receipts, when it is introduced but are yet to make decision on what they will use instead.

Whilst it is good news to see some retailers are moving away from bisphenols completely and others to commit to the ban on BPA, we want to see all retailers using phenol-free receipts, as well as offering no receipt and digital receipt at their checkouts where possible.

The environmental toll of a till roll

The problems with receipts don’t end with the chemicals in them. US based NGO, Green America, commissioned research into the environmental impacts of receipts. Their findings suggested that the production and disposal of receipts in the US alone every year, equates to the consumption of 3.32 million trees, 9.08 billion gallons of water, 4.68 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions, and 302 million pounds of solid waste [5].

The bisphenols used on thermal paper receipts also means these receipts should not be recycled to prevent these harmful chemicals contaminating products made with recycled paper.

You can read more about bisphenol health and environmental concerns in our previous blog.

What next?

We plan to keep working with retailers and the public to stop unwanted receipts being produced, and for those occasions that we do need a paper receipt, that these have a smaller environmental impact. Due to the negative impacts that bisphenols have throughout our environment and supply chains, Fidra wants to see bisphenols regulated as a group. If this happens, industry suppliers will be unable to replace one substance of concern with another similar one, avoiding regrettable substitution.

We will maintain our work with industry and retailers to ensure that they are well informed and are working towards limiting the negative impacts of their businesses. We will continue to lobby governments for a group-based approach to chemicals. Through this, we believe that such harmful substances will be removed with greater ease and success, protecting environmental and human health from further damage.

What can you do to help?

That’s the easy bit! Say ‘No, thanks’ and #BeatTheReceipt, raise awareness of this issue right now by sharing this blog and talking to friends and family about what you have learned.  If you find you do need a receipt, ask the company if they’re phenol-free and tell them about what you’ve read.


[1] https://echa.europa.eu/hot-topics/bisphenol-a

[2] Flint, S., Markle, T., Thompson, S., & Wallace, E. (2012). Bisphenol A exposure, effects, and policy: A wildlife perspective. Journal of Environmental Management, 104, 19-34.

[3] France provided evidence for BPA legislation which indicated risks for workers (primarily cashiers) and consumers exposed to bisphenol A (BPA) by handling thermal paper receipts. Health concerns include impacts on the female reproductive system, the brain and behaviour, the mammary gland, metabolism and obesity, and the immune system.  While these risks are sometimes uncertain and may be small for an individual they need to be taken into account by legislators when considering the impacts across the entire population. The EU’s Risk Assessment Committee confirmed a risk to shop workers. Commission Regulation (EU) 2016/2235 of 12 December 2016 amending Annex XVII to Regulation (EC) No 1907/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council concerning the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) as regards bisphenol A http://data.europa.eu/eli/reg/2016/2235/oj

[4] ‘From BPA to BPZ: a toxic soup?’, CHEM Trust, 2018

[5] https://www.greenamerica.org/sites/default/files/2019-01/Skip%20the%20Slip%20Report%202019%20-%20Green%20America.pdf

Tags: , , , , , ,