Don't Keep the Receipt | Seventh Generation
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Don't Keep the Receipt

Author: the Inkslinger

In my world, there's always a shoe box of receipts floating around somewhere waiting for annual financial reckoning. It's a simple thing. Just a modest pile of paper, some cherished retail memories, and, it seems, a whole lot of BPA.

Nobody is more surprised than me to learn that many of the little receipts that waiters, grocery cashiers, and store clerks have been handing me for years contain boatloads of bisphenol-a. BPA in canned foods and polycarbonate plastics? Sure. Dental sealants and water bottles? That we knew. But credit card slips and shopping receipts? C'mon...really?

Tests on the thermal paper receipts that millions of us handle every day show that a lot of them are coated with BPA, often in amounts that make food and drink exposures look insignificant by comparison. That's according to two studies, one conducted by green chemistry pioneer John Warner and the other by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). The former found BPA in 8 out of 10 thermal paper receipts collected in the Boston area. The latter discovered BPA in 40% of 36 receipts collected from fast food outlets, chain and grocery stores, gas stations, and post offices in seven states and the District of Columbia. In each case, the chemical was used as a developer, which when combined with heat and an initially invisible dye created black lettering.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but that's just no good because BPA has been linked to all kinds of medical mischief. It's not a chemical we want to invite inside our homes or our bodies. And we don't need it in our receipts either because plenty of thermal paper manufacturers make a BPA-free option that works just fine without it.

So does this mean I'll be doing my taxes in a hazmat suit? Not quite, but I may be using tongs and rubber gloves. And until thermal paper makers get with the program and get the BPA out of their product, I'll definitely be following the advice of the EWG, which suggests:

  • Refusing those receipts you can live without.
  • Isolate thermal receipts in a small envelope kept in your purse or wallet. (You can check to see if a receipt is thermal by rubbing it with a coin. The resulting friction will discolor thermal paper.)
  • Keep all receipts away from your kids.
  • Wash your hands after handling a thermal receipt, especially before preparing food and/or eating.
  • Keep thermal papers out of the recycling bin in order to prevent BPA contamination.

These steps will help minimize whatever risks BPA-tainted receipts may present (and it should be noted that we don't quite know what those risks are at this point -- only that there may be some). So keep the possible dangers in mind whenever you decide to keep your receipt.

photo: Bjørn Bulthuis


MelissaC83 picture
Oh my gosh, I had no idea! That's disgusting! I'm glad I don't keep those anyway! I just make sure I make any major purchase on my credit or debit card so that I can just print out a year end review for tax purposes in case I get audited. Most credit card processing are smart about it and will help organize your purchases by type, like food, gas, etc. Anyway, I'll always be saying no to receipts from now on. Thanks SG!
the Inkslinger picture
the Inkslinger
The one source for BPA-free receipt paper that I'm aware of is Appleton Papers. I'm sure there are others as well and suspect there will be more still in not too long. The issue of BPA in receipts seems to be quickly gaining traction--last weekend, for the first time, my supermarket receipt proudly announced that it was BPA-free. Awareness is definitely increasing and with awareness comes public pressure. Since BPA is not required for thermal papers and BPA-free varieties are easily and readily available, I suspect that we'll see this source of the toxin vanish relatively rapidly. Appleton Papers is here:
ycullinan picture
BPA-laden receipts which are recycled by unsuspecting consumers find their way into recycled toilet paper, which is all the reason in the world for me to stop using it. I'm especially wary of having it in the house because we have small children. Here's more info:
Lynn M picture
Lynn M
Thanks for spreading the word about this topic. I've talked to a number of local stores and our library about this issue and many are willing to switch to a BPA-free receipt paper. But who makes BPA-free receipt paper?? That's what I need to know to help them move away from BPA.
diva48 picture
Great. I already recycle as much paper as I possibly can and I toss my receipts right in there. Now you tell me not to? What, pray tell, should I do with them? Throw them away? That's what I'm trying to avoid!
diverblam picture
That is so upsetting to hear that we are exposed to this and probably have been for years! Companies change their water bottles, baby bottles, etc. because consumers speak up. I haven't heard anything about canning companies changing their ways and omitting BPA from the cans. I wonder how long it will take before enough consumers get fed up and force receipt mfg. companies to remove BPA from the papers. Also, that is even worse that we cannot even recycle these receipts as it would potentially contaminate everything else. What a bummer... that means even more paper would be thrown away.
the Inkslinger picture
the Inkslinger
You're right Rowel--there's no question that this issue poses a risk to store clerks as well. At one point, I did actually have a few lines in there about this (according to figures I found, there are about 7 million people employed in the U.S. as cashiers and retail salespeople), but in attempting not to be too long-winded, I cut this reference out to save some space. Also, the list of suggestions I provided is from the EWG, and they didn't offer any tips for store employees. No slight intended on service workers. I just needed to whittle my post down to size and didn't really have any concrete advice to offer. That said, though I'm hardly an expert on this stuff, I think my personal recommendation to store clerks would be to lobby their employers to switch to a safer BPA-free paper. Appleton Papers is one company that has removed BPA from its thermal cash register papers. I guess you could also wear gloves (if allowed) and be conscious about washing your hands a lot at work--especially before eating. And if it were me, I'd ask customers if they wanted their receipt and set my register to print one only by request, which I think can be done. That way it might be possible to cut down on the number of receipts you handle (and save some paper, too)--especially if you work in a convenience store or some other place where people generally don't need a proof-of-purchase. Thanks for calling attention to my oversight. I hope this helps correct it.
hernameismel picture
Do you know how many times I have given my now two year old the receipt to keep her occupied while I walk out of the store? And about half of those times I found it in her mouth... This is scary besides the fact that I have been a cashier for over 8 years and it has always been thermal receipt paper. This is scary. I'm pretty easy going with my kids but always purchase BPA free products and almost had a heart attack when I found out about the SIgg bottle bpa. Now I use all glass because I'm pretty sure that's safe but who knows. One more thing to worry about but I will not be letting my kids near those receipts anymore. Not sure what to do about work? Suggestions?
rowel picture
Hi, Good article, and I'm glad you drew attention to this issue, but pretty harsh of you to recognize the fact that these people have been handing you BPA-laden receipts and not put ANY reference to what they can do to protect themselves in your suggestions section. You may handle a few receipts per day and more when its tax season, but what about these poor service industry workers who may have to handle up to hundreds per day! We're people too you know. People who would prefer not to be poisoned slowly with chemical paper.