Paper receipts generate tons of waste and are coated in toxic chemicals
January 9, 2019
by Green America
Paper receipts are tiny items with significant environmental impacts and health risks for workers and customers. Every year in the United States, receipts use 10 million trees, 21 billion gallons of water and generate 686 million pounds of waste and 12 billion pounds of CO2. Extraction and use of these resources takes a toll on the climate, a reminder that we need to continue replacing outdated, wasteful items with innovative solutions.
Receipts also pose considerable health risks to the people who regularly are in contact with them. An estimated 93 percent of paper receipts are coated with Bisphenol-A (BPA) or Bisphenol-S (BPS), known endocrine-disruptors, which serve as color-developers to make the text appear on receipts. When we touch receipts, the chemical coating is absorbed into our bodies through our hands in mere seconds.
Researchers at the New York State Department of Health documented connections between BPA exposures and developmental and neurological problems. BPA impacts fetal development and is linked to reproductive impairment, type 2 diabetes, thyroid conditions, and other health concerns. Companies have sought out “non-BPA” paper, but the typical replacement is BPS, a similar chemical which research indicates has similarly detrimental effects as BPA.
Retail employees are at the greatest risk, as studies show workers who have regular contact with receipts have over 30 percent more BPA or BPS found in their bodies, and many employees may exceed the European Union’s limit for safe amount of BPA to absorb in a day (which is 4 micrograms per kilogram of body weight). As of 2014, nearly 81 percent of Americans were shown to have detectable levels of BPS in their urine, and nearly 90% of human exposure to BPS comes from thermal paper receipts coated with the substance.
Innovative companies are using available options that can lessen environmental impacts and reduce health risks for employees and customers. There are many existing solutions which eliminate the need for phenol-coated paper which we discuss in this report, including:
Dynamic receipts are digital receipts used to provide future marketing opportunities with customer consent.
Card readers for smartphones and tablets offer paperless transactions that are seamless and secure.
Digital receipt software is available that works with various point of sale hardware, meaning companies do not need to make changes to their registers.
Phenol-free receipt paper options that are already successfully being used by major retailers across the country.