Bisphenols in receipts and tickets

  • There is increasing evidence that bisphenols are harming the environment and could be impacting human health by affecting our hormones
  • Bisphenols are synthetic chemicals used in receipts and tickets
  • BPA will be banned from till receipts in the EU by 2020, but many retailers are switching to other bisphenols as replacements, such as Bisphenol S (BPS)
  • Some retailers have already phased out bisphenols from their receipts, with some ditching paper entirely by introducing digital options

Bisphenols are a group of synthetic chemicals used to make some plastics, and thermal paper for tickets and receipts. Bisphenol A (BPA) is the most studied bisphenol and one of the highest produced chemicals, manufactured at a rate of around 2.7 million tonnes each year. Evidence suggest that BPA disrupts endocrine (hormonal) systems in both humans and animal species [1] and is found in the blood and urine of almost every person who has been tested [2].

Whilst some bisphenols have not been studied as closely as BPA, all bisphenols have a similar structure and composition, and many have similar effects on humans and animals.

One way that these chemicals enter our bodies is through our skin when touching receipts and tickets. Bisphenols can also be released into the environment through landfill leachate, paper mill effluent and the breakdown of products that contain these chemicals, such as receipts.

It is clear from the academic, scientific research that bisphenols can have a negative impact on human and environmental health and need to be monitored, regulated and banned where the use is unnecessary and harmful. Balabanič et al. (2017) [3] go as far as claiming that “endocrine-disrupting compounds (EDCs) are one of the most critical class of contaminants since they can cause adverse effects in the living organisms due to their interference with the endocrine system.” As a result, many academics and NGOs, such as Fidra, 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.

Health impacts

Research like that completed by Balabanič et al. (2017) [4] on the impacts of endocrine (hormone) disruptors on biological processes, highlight the damage that can be caused to human fertility, formation of genitals and hormone related cancers. Valentino et al. (2015) [5] express that exposure to Bisphenol A (BPA) via tin cans, plastic packaging and till receipts and tickets “must be reduced” due to the results that they found on human health, especially in regard to foetal and neonatal exposure.

Environmental impacts

CHEM Trust’s report, ‘From BPA to BPZ: a toxic soup?‘ explains that BPA is ubiquitous throughout our natural environment, having a wide variety of different impacts on wildlife. This includes disruption to the development of Zebrafish larvae and amphibians as well as altering the sex and reproductive systems of various fish species [6].

In addition, a recent study from Guo et al. (2017) shows that BPA has been found to build up in green algae. This is known as ‘bioaccumulation’ as the chemical is absorbed by an organism quicker than it can be processes. This study also demonstrated that bisphenol was transferred from contaminated alga to plankton that eat it, therefore suggesting that it is possible for bisphenols to build up in the food chain [7]. 

The growing concerns about the effects of bisphenols has led to the banning of BPA in various products in countries such as Canada, France and China. The EU has banned BPA in baby products and from 2020 they will also introduce a ban of the use on receipts [8].

Current legislation addresses these chemicals individually, which risks companies switching to another harmful bisphenols; such as replacing BPA for BPS on our receipts. BPS and flourine-9- bisphenol (BHPF) have been shown to have similar properties to BPA, which may lead to bans on BPS in the future. By phasing out all bisphenols, businesses and organisations will be able to stay ahead of legislation and avoid cases of regrettable substitution.

At Fidra, we want to see group-based legislation on chemicals so that the whole group, in this case bisphenols, is banned from production and use rather than only certain types like we have seen with BPA. Evidence demonstrates that other bisphenols, such as BPS and BPF, which are often used as an alternative where BPA is banned, have very similar properties and impacts to BPA.

  • Offer the option 

The majority of receipts and tickets are either immediately thrown into the bin or forgotten in the bottom of the bag. Some retailers are now asking customers if they would like a receipt rather than automatically printing one. If possible, check to see if your point of sale has had automatic printing switched off.

  • ‘Go digital’ 

In this age of digitalisation, many retailers are introducing digital receipts to their systems. This is an effective option and will reduce long-term environmental costs of using rolls of paper and printing.

  • Choose a safer alternative

Retailers have an important role in reducing the exposure levels of bisphenols to their staff, customers and wider environment. Alternative non-bisphenol coatings for thermal paper tickets and receipts are readily available and can be introduced. It is also possible to offer receipts that are not made with thermal paper at all.

  • Say ‘No, thank you!’

If you don’t need a receipt please say so. Customers have a lot of power when it comes to influencing the places they spend their money. Tell the businesses that you shop with that you do not need a receipt.

  • Keep your receipts safe

If you do need a receipt for expenses or proof of purchase, that is OK! It is often necessary. In this situation, keep your tickets and receipts in an envelope to limit the contact with your skin.

  • Bin them, don’t recycle

We know this might go against everything you expect to hear from an environmental charity, but due to the bisphenols on most tickets and receipts, we do not recommend that these items are recycled but put into the general waste bins. This will prevent the chemicals being introduced into our recycled paper products such as loo roll or printing paper.

CHEM Trust image showing the time frame of regulation and ban on BPA. Source: 'From BPA to BPZ: a toxic soup?' by CHEM Trust.

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

[2] 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.

[3] 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. 

[4] 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. 

[5] 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.

[6] 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.

[7] 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.

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