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. 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.

The Co-op – Acting on the ‘Everywhere Chemicals’, bisphenols, ahead of legislation

The Co-op are known for their commitment to environmental sustainability and in 2019, they began discussions with Fidra regarding bisphenol-free receipts. Recognising that so called ‘everywhere chemicals’, bisphenols, are a chemical group with the potential to harm both people and the environment, the Co-op were keen to avoid regrettable substitution of bisphenol-A (BPA), following its EU-wide ban in thermal paper, with another damaging bisphenol.

Iain Ferguson, Environment Manager for the Co-op, explains how and why they moved to bisphenol-free receipts.

What led the Co-op to remove all bisphenols from receipts?

The Co-op has a strong track record of dealing with chemical issues based on evidence and best practise. We looked at the issues of BPA in the same light. We took note of the evidence emerging on BPA in till receipts (and other thermal printed paper). One of the possible alternatives to use, which would have reduced the extra costs we faced in switching out of BPA, was BPS. It was of concern to us that BPS is so close an analogue of BPA that we would expect the same health effects to be present in its use. Our change form BPA to phenol-free in till receipts was not just about protecting the public; we were very concerned with protecting the health of our store staff who handle thousands of till receipts each day.

What did the process of switching to bisphenol-free paper involve?

The process of changing policy at the Co-op involved collating information about the health concerns associated with BPA, the similar chemistry of BPS, the financial implications of the various options and the potential ways to mitigate that additional cost. We also highlighted the clear potential for BPS to face a similar ban in future. The leaders at the Co-op readily accepted the need to move to a phenol-free solution to protect customers and staff.

How did the Co-op mitigate additional costs?

Mitigation of extra cost was through changing the practice in store away from automatically giving customers a till receipt, to asking customers if they need one. This extends to self-scan checkouts which give customers 5 seconds to that they do want a receipt; the default position is no receipt. This has additionally helped us to reduce paper waste for till receipts, and we have reduced our paper usage by 45% overall and 58% on self-scan checkouts. Customer’s rights are not affected by this change.  

Fidra’s work on bisphenols

Fidra’s bisphenols project has seen major UK retailers and food outlets commit to removing all bisphenols from their receipts. Fidra are now calling for group-based legislation to ban all bisphenols from use in receipts. Restricting all bisphenols in thermal paper will help protect people and the environment from endocrine disrupting chemicals, as well as creating a level playing field for all businesses.

Visit our bisphenols webpage for more.