PFAS-coated clothes that are thrown away will often end up either incinerated or in landfill. Unless incinerated at very high temperatures (>1000oC), fluorinated polymers could release more harmful PFAS during burning. PFAS of environmental concern have also been found in landfill leachate. PFAS is found in treated waste water from industrial and domestic sources and has been found in both rivers and groundwater. Conventional drinking water processes will not remove PFAS.Small quantities of PFAS will be removed during wash and wear of products containing PFAS. This includes fluorinated polymers used on stain-resistant coatings, and non-polymers that remain on clothes after production (Lassen et al. 2015).Non-polymer PFAS can build up in blood protein of animals, and is not always removed quickly. This means that predators eating PFAS-contaminated food will have higher levels in their bloodstream, and concentrations can increase up the food chain. Studies suggest that build up of PFAS is similar to those of other Persistent Organic Pollutants such as DDT.PFAS are estimated to be settling in arctic regions at rates of tens to hundreds of kilograms per year (25-850kg per year), depending on the specific PFAS chemical in question. Certain PFAS are released as gases to the environment and are blown a long way by wind and air currents in the atmosphere,. These gas PFAS will over time degrade to more persistent chemicals like PFOS and PFOA. This may be one reason why PFAS of environmental concern have been found in remote regions such as the Arctic as well as near PFAS production sitesPFAS including PFOS and PFOA have been found in air samples around Europe. The chemicals are found in small quantities, but appear in almost all samples tested. PFAS enters the atmosphere both from factories and the air inside our homes. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17554424 Non-polymer PFAS are used in the production of fluorinated polymers. The manufacture of stain-resistant finishes generally releases these PFASs into the environment, both by air and water emissions. They are very hard to remove during water treatment. Workers in textiles factories are some of the population most exposed to these potentially harmful chemicals.

Bisphenols in our receipts

  • Bisphenols, also known as ‘Everywhere Chemicals’, are industrial chemicals often used in receipts and tickets.

  • There is increasing evidence that bisphenols are harming the environment and impacting human health.

  • Following a recent ban of bisphenol-A (BPA) from use in thermal paper, some retailers have now phased out all bisphenols from their receipts. However, many others are switching to alternative bisphenols, like bisphenol-S (BPS), which are of similar concern.

  • In a recent Fidra survey, leading retailers agreed that they would be ‘in favour of legislation to ban all bisphenols from till receipts’, identifying human health, environmental protection and economic savings as some of the main benefits.

  • Legislation enforcing a ban on all bisphenols from use in receipts is needed to protect both human and environmental health, and to ensure the safety of recycled paper products within a circular economy.

What are bisphenols?

Bisphenols are a group of industrial chemicals used in thermal paper, such as tickets and receipts, as well as plastics and metal can linings. Bisphenol-A (BPA) is the most well studied bisphenol and one of the most highly produced chemicals in the world. BPA has been detected in the blood and urine of almost every person ever tested [1] and is a known endocrine disruptor, meaning it can interfere with the hormonal systems of people and wildlife [2]. Whilst other bisphenols have not been studied as closely as BPA, all bisphenols have similar chemical characteristics and are suspected of having similarly damaging effects.

Bisphenols can enter our bodies through our skin when handling products like receipts and tickets, and can pollute our environment through landfill leachate, paper mill effluent and the breakdown of bisphenol-containing products.

What's the solution?

Fidra have been working with some of the UK’s major retailers and are delighted to see that many have now committed to removing all bisphenols from receipts, as shown on our Retailer Tables. But this alone isn’t enough. We want to see all retailers choosing bisphenol-free options and for this, we need legislation.

In a recent Fidra survey, leading retailers agreed that they would be ‘in favour of legislation to ban all bisphenols from till receipts’, identifying human health, environmental protection and economic savings as some of the main benefits. This shows that a group-based restriction on bisphenols isn’t only possible, it’s desirable. In order to truly protect both people and the environment, ensure the safety of our recycled products, and create a level playing field for all retailers, we need to introduce legislation banning the use of all bisphenols from receipts.

Find out more about our retailer survey in our full report.

Regulating bisphenols

Growing concern around the effects of bisphenols has led to increases in regulation across the world. This has been most significant for BPA, which has been restricted from various products in countries such as the UK, Canada, China and across the EU [2].

Currently, the UK regulatory system addresses every chemical individually. This means that BPA will be researched and regulated separately to other bisphenols, such as BPS, rather than being assessed as a group. This process allows companies to easily switch from one chemical to another when one is banned, referred to as ‘regrettable substitution‘, and is exactly what has occurred following the ban of BPA.

BPS is now commonly used as an alternative to BPA in receipts. In fact, a recent ECHA survey estimated that by 2022, 61% of all thermal paper would contain BPS [3], despite being a suspected reproductive toxicant and endocrine disruptor [4]. BPB, another common alternative, was identified as an endocrine disruptor by the French authority, ANSES, in 2019 [5] and is currently being considered for classification as a Substance of Very High Concern by UK REACH [6].

By phasing out all bisphenols, businesses and organisations will therefore be able to stay ahead of legislation, avoid cases of regrettable substitution and ensure protection of both people and the environment.

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.”

How can you help?

  • Say ‘No, thank you!’

If you don’t need a receipt, say so! Retailers will soon get the message.

  • Keep your receipts safe

If you need a receipt for expenses or proof of purchase, keep them in an envelope to limit the contact with skin.

  • Bin them

We know this might not be what you expect from an environmental charity, but we do not recommend recycling receipts unless they are known to be bisphenol-free. This help will prevent bisphenols being introduced into recycled paper products, such as toilet roll and printing paper.

The impacts of bisphenols

It is clear from scientific research that bisphenols can have a negative impact on human and environmental health and need to be monitored, regulated and banned where their use is unnecessary. Balabanič et al. (2017) [7] go as far as claiming that “endocrine-disrupting compounds (EDCs) are one of the most critical class of contaminants”. As a result, many academics and NGOs, Fidra included, would like to see greater action in regard to the regulation and use of bisphenols as a group, not just on one bisphenol chemical, such as BPA, alone.

Human Health 

Bisphenols have been linked to various human health concerns, including breast [8], prostate and ovarian cancer [9], obesity [10], fertility issues [11], diabetes and neurobehavioral difficulties [12]. The hormone-disrupting nature of these chemicals means pregnant women, children and infants are particularly vulnerable [13]. Valentino et al. (2015) [14] expressed that exposure to BPA via tin cans, plastic packaging, till receipts and tickets “must be reduced” due to the potential impacts on human health, especially in regard to foetal and neonatal exposure.

Environment

CHEM Trust’s report, ‘From BPA to BPZ: a toxic soup?‘, explains how BPA is now ubiquitous throughout our natural environment and has been shown to cause hormonal disruption & reproductive stress in wildlife. This includes interference to the development of Zebrafish larvae and amphibians, as well as altering the sex and reproductive systems of various fish species [15].

A recent study has also found that BPA can build up in green algae. This is known as ‘bioaccumulation’ and refers to a chemical being absorbed by an organism quicker than it can be processed. The study demonstrated that bisphenols could be transferred from contaminated alga to the plankton that eats it, suggesting that it is possible for bisphenols to build up in food chains [16], which we are of course a part of.

Circular Economy

Contamination of recycled materials has already resulted in bisphenols appearing in a range of productsfrom pizza boxes [17] to toilet paper [18]. They have also been detected in paper pulp and sewage sludge, both of which are used as fertilizer, providing a direct route for environmental contamination [19]. Not only does this prolong exposure of people and the environment to hazardous chemicals, it also undermines the success of a safe and effective circular economy.

Who has already made the move away from bisphenols?

Many retailers have already committed to removing all bisphenols from their receipts ahead of legislation, as well as turning off automatic printing and offering digital receipts. See who’s doing what in our Retailer Tables, below.

Iain Ferguson, Environment Manager for the Co-op, said: “We believe how we do business really matters, from our work to cut carbon, source sustainably and eradicate hard to recycle plastic, through to bisphenol and phenol-free till receipts – we are committed to ensuring we have a healthy, sustainable natural environment to pass on to future generations.”

See the Co-op’s full case study, here.

Supermarkets:

  • Aldi
  • Asda
  • Coop
  • Iceland
  • Lidl
  • Marks & Spencer
  • Morrisons
  • Sainsbury’s
  • Tesco
  • Waitrose
Are their receipts bisphenol free?
$20 / month
  • Yes
  • No
  • Yes
  • Yes
  • Yes
  • Phasing in bisphenol-free stock
  • No
  • Yes
  • Yes
  • Yes
Have they stopped receipts printing automatically?
$60 / month
  • No
  • No
  • Yes
  • Yes
  • On some self-service checkouts
  • On some self-service checkouts
  • Unknown
  • On some self-service checkouts
  • On some self-service checkouts & petrol pumps
  • Yes
Do they offer digital receipting?
$99 / month
  • No
  • No
  • On some checkouts
  • Under consideration
  • Unknown
  • Under consideration
  • Unknown
  • No
  • Under consideration
  • Under consideration

Food Outlets:

  • Costa Coffee
  • Domino's Pizza
  • Greggs
  • McDonald's
  • Pizza Hut
  • Pret A Manger
Are their receipts bisphenol free?
$20 / month
  • Unknown
  • Unknown
  • Under consideration
  • Yes
  • No
  • Unknown
Have they stopped receipts printing automatically?
$60 / month
  • Unknown
  • Unknown
  • Yes
  • No
  • No
  • Yes
Do they offer digital receipting?
$99 / month
  • Unknown
  • Unknown
  • Available for Greggs Rewards customers.
  • No
  • Available for customers ordering via mobile phones
  • No

Other Retailers:

  • B&Q
  • Boots
  • H&M
  • Ikea UK
  • JoJo Maman Bébé
  • Mamas & Papas
  • Mothercare Ltd.
  • Screwfix
Are their receipts bisphenol free?
$20 / month
  • Yes
  • Yes
  • Yes
  • Yes
  • No
  • Yes
  • Phasing in bisphenol-free stock
  • Yes
Have they stopped receipts printing automatically?
$60 / month
  • No
  • No
  • No
  • Unkown
  • Receipts aren't printed for customers who opt for E-receipts
  • No
  • Yes
  • No
Do they offer digital receipting?
$99 / month
  • No
  • Under consideration
  • Digital receipts available for loyalty club members
  • Yes
  • Yes
  • Yes
  • Yes
  • Yes

References

[1] Mendum, T., Stoler, E., VanBenschoten, H. and Warner, J.C., 2011. Concentration of bisphenol A in thermal paper. Green Chemistry Letters and Reviews4(1), pp.81-86.

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

[3] ‘Bisphenol S has replaced bisphenol A in thermal paper’, ECHA, 2020

[4] 4,4’-sulphonyldiphenol, ECHA, 2021 

[5] Serra, H., Beausoleil, C., Habert, R., Minier, C., Picard-Hagen, N. and Michel, C., 2019. Evidence for Bisphenol B endocrine properties: Scientific and regulatory perspectives. Environmental health perspectives127(10), p.106001

[6] The Agency for UK REACH Work programme 2021/22, HSE, 2021

[7] Balabanič, D., Filipič, M., Klemenčič, A.K. and Žegura, B., 2017. Raw and biologically treated paper mill wastewater effluents and the recipient surface waters: Cytotoxic and genotoxic activity and the presence of endocrine disrupting compounds. Science of the Total Environment574, pp.78-89. 

[8] Huang, W., Zhao, C., Zhong, H., Zhang, S., Xia, Y. and Cai, Z., 2019. Bisphenol S induced epigenetic and transcriptional changes in human breast cancer cell line MCF-7. Environmental Pollution246, pp.697-703.

[9] Khan, N.G., Correia, J., Adiga, D., Rai, P.S., Dsouza, H.S., Chakrabarty, S. and Kabekkodu, S.P., 2021. A comprehensive review on the carcinogenic potential of bisphenol A: clues and evidence. Environmental Science and Pollution Research, pp.1-21.

[10] Jacobson, M.H., Woodward, M., Bao, W., Liu, B. and Trasande, L., 2019. Urinary bisphenols and obesity prevalence among US children and adolescents. Journal of the Endocrine Society3(9), pp.1715-1726.

[11] Pivonello, C., Muscogiuri, G., Nardone, A., Garifalos, F., Provvisiero, D.P., Verde, N., de Angelis, C., Conforti, A., Piscopo, M., Auriemma, R.S. and Colao, A., 2020. Bisphenol A: an emerging threat to female fertility. Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology18(1), pp.1-33.

[12] Kahn, L.G., Philippat, C., Nakayama, S.F., Slama, R. and Trasande, L., 2020. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals: implications for human health. The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology8(8), pp.703-718.

[13]  Nachman, R.M., Hartle, J.C., Lees, P.S. and Groopman, J.D., 2014. Early life metabolism of bisphenol A: a systematic review of the literature. Current environmental health reports1(1), pp.90-100.

[14] Valentino, R., D’Esposito, V., Ariemma, F., Cimmino, I., Beguinot, F. and Formisano, P., 2016. Bisphenol A environmental exposure and the detrimental effects on human metabolic health: is it necessary to revise the risk assessment in vulnerable population?. Journal of endocrinological investigation39(3), pp.259-263.

[15] Wu L-H et al, 2018 Occurrence of bisphenol S in the environment and implications for human exposure: A short review. Sci Total Environ.615  87-98.

[16] Guo, R., Du, Y., Zheng, F., Wang, J., Wang, Z., Ji, R. and Chen, J., 2017. Bioaccumulation and elimination of bisphenol a (BPA) in the alga Chlorella pyrenoidosa and the potential for trophic transfer to the rotifer Brachionus calyciflorus. Environmental Pollution227, pp.460-467.

[17] Council, D.C., 2015. Test: Unwanted chemicals found in pizza boxes’.

[18] Liao, C. and Kannan, K., 2011. Widespread occurrence of bisphenol A in paper and paper products: implications for human exposure. Environmental science & technology45(21), pp.9372-9379.

[19] Zhang, Z., Le Velly, M., Rhind, S.M., Kyle, C.E., Hough, R.L., Duff, E.I. and McKenzie, C., 2015. A study on temporal trends and estimates of fate of Bisphenol A in agricultural soils after sewage sludge amendment. Science of the Total Environment515, pp.1-11.