Contact: Pam McCurdy, 651-757-2559
St. Paul, Minn. -— An increasing number of retailers are offering receipts digitally via email or text, instead of on paper. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) is launching a project to support this paperless receipt trend, for environmental and public health reasons.
The goal is to reduce paper waste and generation of the chemical bisphenol A (BPA), which is used in many thermal receipt papers as a color developer that emerges when heated. By helping businesses switch to paperless receipt systems, the MPCA hopes to reduce human and environmental exposure to BPA and other alternative thermal developers which haven’t been shown to be clearly superior.
The MPCA is recruiting Minnesota businesses and organizations from the hospitality sector to participate in this project. Initial response has been enthusiastic, with restaurants, resorts and hotel groups around the state signing on. Participating businesses will receive assistance in assessing their current receipt paper, quantifying receipt paper use, learning about health and environmental effects of BPA, and transitioning to a paperless receipt system of their choice.
Why not just use a BPA-free paper? Switching to a different paper doesn’t help reduce overall paper waste. But more importantly, the most common substitute for BPA in thermal papers — bisphenol S, or BPS — has shown the same sort of endocrine disrupting behavior in studies as BPA. No alternative thermal paper developer is known to be safer.
“When there is a solution that prevents unnecessary resource consumption and also reduces exposure to toxins, that’s the solution we want to promote,” Madalyn Cioci, the MPCA project manager, said.
BPA is toxic to aquatic species. It has been identified as a reproductive, developmental and systemic toxicant in animal studies, and mimics estrogen in the human body. Exposure to BPA has been associated with reproductive problems, enlarged prostate, reduced sperm count, obesity and diabetes in mice, and the proliferation of human breast cancer cells (from MPCA 2008 legislative report “Endocrine Disrupting Compounds”). It is being studied for potential effects on childhood neurological development, and is among the Minnesota Department of Health’s list of priority chemicals.
Human exposure to BPA is widespread. It is found in the urine of the vast majority of newborns, children, adolescents and adults. About 8 billion pounds of BPA are produced each year, making it one of the higher-volume chemicals in production. Its presence in canned food linings and as an additive to bicarbonate plastics is well known. BPA is now banned from many children’s products both at the state and federal level. Though its use in slick thermal receipt papers is less well known, awareness is increasing. Preliminary research suggests that those who handle receipts as part of their employment have higher levels of BPA in their bodies than other people.