BPA in thermal receipt paper
If you are an employee that handles receipts (like a waiter, cashier or librarian) or you run a business that gives out receipts, you are likely using thermal paper and it almost assuredly is coated with either BPA or its chemical cousin, Bisphenol S (BPS). All of the 18 thermal papers we tested were coated with either BPA or BPS.
We now know that thermal receipt paper, used widely every day, is another way that Bisphenol A (BPA) gets into us. Studies have shown cashiers have higher levels of BPA in their body fluids than other occupations. Regular receipt handling may be of particular concern to pregnant women or women of childbearing age and adolescents of both sexes who handle receipts regularly.
BPA is known to be hazardous to human, fish and other animal reproductive systems and has been linked with obesity and attention disorders. The other commonly used chemical for thermal receipts, BPS, has been shown to have some similar effects.
Fortunately, you can take steps to reduce this problem:
- Find out if your receipt paper is thermal. Click on FAQs below – How do I know if a receipt is thermal paper?
- Educate employees and encourage them to adopt new receipt handling precautions. Click on the “Strategies” tab below. Read them and share with employees.
- Begin to offer digital or e-receipts. These use no paper at all and are the best step you can take currently, (So far, there are no clearly safer thermal receipt papers on the market.) Click on the case studies and POS tabs below to find e-receipt options.
Want more assistance or information? Contact Madalyn Cioci, 651-757-2276
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Pollution Prevention Program supported this project.
How do I know if a receipt is thermal paper?
A receipt is probably thermal paper if it discolors easily when scratched with a coin or paperclip. Thermal receipt papers are quite thin, and often have a slick feel or sheen finish. They are run through thermal printers and the printing develops from the heat; ink is not physically printed onto the paper.
Note that plain “bond” paper used as receipts, where ink is actually applied to the paper, is not of concern and doesn’t use chemical developers.
What’s the problem with chemicals in receipts?
Bisphenol-A (BPA), a chemical on the Minnesota Department of Health’s list of Priority Chemicals, is used as a developer for thermal receipt papers used every day at the point-of-sale in most retail stores – from stores in the mall to gas stations, pharmacies, and grocery stores. The chemical is “unbound” on the surface of the paper so it wipes off easily onto the hands (and onto others things it comes in contact with, like paper money in a billfold (Liao, et al., 2011)). BPA can be absorbed into the body directly through the skin (Zalko et al., 2011). Cashiers who handled BPA-containing receipts had higher levels of urinary BPA than individuals who did not handle BPA-containing paper (Braun et al., 2011).
While the rate of absorption through the skin and calculating added risk from handling receipts is not completely certain, thermal paper receipts are recognized as a pathway for BPA exposure for people who handle receipts (especially cashiers), and as a mechanism for spreading BPA through the environment.
BPA is a reproductive, developmental, and systemic toxicant in animal studies and is weakly estrogenic. It has been found in well over 90% of American adults and children and in Minnesota’s groundwater (see: Endocrine Active Chemicals and Other Contaminants of Emerging Concern in Minnesota’s Groundwater, 2009-2010 ) and lakes and streams ( Statewide Endocrine Disrupting Compound Monitoring Study, 2007-2008).
Besides use in thermal paper, BPA is commonly used in other products including hard polycarbonate plastic (like helmet visors, eyeglass lenses, and some water bottles), in epoxy resins for adhesives, sealants, food can linings, and in flame retardants.
How much BPA is in receipts?
Recent studies have found that individual thermal receipts from retailers and restaurants can contain a mass of BPA that is 250 to 1,000 times greater than the amount in a can of food.
Testing of samples of thermal paper from 18 hospitality businesses in Minnesota found that half of them contained BPA at levels ranging from 54–79 micrograms per square centimeter of paper. (The other 9 papers contained a related chemical, bisphenol S, as the developer at similar weights; 37-75 micrograms per square centimeter.) These results are documented in this recent MPCA report:
Keep in mind, thermal paper is also used for airline boarding passes and luggage tags, and tests have found BPA and BPS in these papers, too.
Is BPA-free paper better?
Not really. Some thermal receipt papers are advertised as “BPA-free,” which means that the paper uses a different chemical, but does not mean that the alternate is a safer chemical or less hazardous for the environment. The most common substitute for BPA at this time is bisphenol S (BPS), found in half the papers the MPCA tested recently. BPS has a similar structure to BPA and has also been found to have effects on the endocrine and reproductive systems of mammals at low doses. Several bisphenol-S chemicals (and other alternatives to BPA in thermal receipts) were recently evaluated by the EPA Design for the Environment program and were not determined to be clearly safer or environmentally less hazardous alternatives. EPA has documented results of the project in a final report:
While making paper more costly, protective coatings can reduce the amount of BPA that ends up on human hands. Protective coatings, however, do not keep the BPA from contaminating the recycled paper stream or being released to the environment.
How do I know if a receipt is thermal paper?
A receipt is likely thermal paper if it discolors easily when scratched with a coin or paperclip. Thermal receipt papers are quite thin, and often have a slick feel or sheen finish. They are run through thermal printers and the printing develops from the heat; ink is not physically printed onto the paper. (Note that plain paper used as receipts, where ink is actually applied to the paper, is not of concern and doesn’t use chemical developers.)
These three short videos provide further detail on the MPCA’s current assistance project for hospitality businesses.
#1: BPA in thermal paper: what is it?
This video provides information about chemical developers in thermal papers (specifically BPA) and introduces the assistance program and role of businesses that would like to participate in it.
#2: BPA in thermal paper: paperless point-of-sale products
The second video provides detail about types of paperless point-of-sale systems and gives more details about how businesses can participate in the project.
#3: BPA in thermal paper: strategies to reduce employee and customer exposure
The third video presents strategies that employers and employees can use to reduce environmental releases and human exposure to BPA and BPS via thermal receipt papers.
Strategies for reducing thermal paper receipts
Cashiers have been found to have higher concentrations of BPA in their urine than people in other occupations. Because these chemicals on papers are free or “unbonded,” they can be transferred to and absorbed through the skin.
Reducing thermal paper use is the most effective strategy for reducing BPA exposure from thermal paper for employees and customers. Preliminary research results for BPS, a common alternative to BPA in thermal paper, shows endocrine activity similar to BPA. Since there are no known clearly safer alternatives to BPA in thermal paper, moving to a paperless point-of-sale (POS) system is the ideal solution for businesses.
MPCA has also developed a list of strategies to reduce potential exposure in cases where thermal receipts must be used.
- Use digital receipt software programs that work with existing POS systems.
- Only print customer receipts upon request.
- Ask customers: “Do you need a receipt?” or "Is an e-receipt OK?”
- Only print receipts for transactions over $25 or $50.
- Do not print merchant copy of receipt if transaction is already kept electronically.
If thermal receipts must be handled
- Minimize employee handling of thermal receipts as much as possible. Direct staff to:
- avoid crumpling receipts
- to handle with just two fingers
- to minimize grip pressure
- to minimize friction/wipe action or fingers on paper.
- Offer protective food grade silicone fingertips to cashiers to wear on their index fingers and thumbs when tearing receipts, changing receipt rolls, or cleaning machines.
- Fold one-sided printed paper in on itself before handing to customer. One-sided thermal paper (paper that can only be printed on one side), usually has more chemical on the printed side.
- Encourage employees to avoid hand to mouth contact when handling receipts.
- Encourage cashiers to avoid handling receipts after using alcohol-based cleaners or when hands are wet, or when greasy from food or lotion.
- Encourage cashiers to wash and dry hands thoroughly during breaks, after changing receipt rolls or cleaning machines, and prior to and after eating or preparing food.
- Protect high risk populations from unnecessary BPA exposure. Focus on protecting pregnant and nursing women, infants, toddlers, small children, and women of child-bearing age.
- Never hand receipts to babies or toddlers.
- Discuss with pregnant and nursing cashiers feasible means of minimizing exposures, including alternate job functions.
- Designate a check-out lane for customers not needing paper receipts or able to accept electronic receipts.
- Allow customers to tear their own receipts off machines.
- Do not place thermal paper receipts/orders directly on food during its preparation.
- Keep drink/meal receipts dry. Do not adhere them to the sides of moist glassware.
MPCA is still evaluating its guidance for best methods of disposal of waste thermal receipt papers
For more information
MPCA contact: Madalyn Cioci, 651-757-2276
As the project continues, white papers and case studies with details of the experiences of businesses that took steps to reduce exposure to BPA/BPS in thermal paper will be posted here.
MPCA tests found that of 18 thermal receipts tested, 9 contained BPA and 9 contained a related chemical, BPS. The findings are documented in this paper:
Minnesota businesses are beginning to move to e-receipts and making other changes to reduce use of thermal receipts. Many see cost saving and efficiency gains as well.
- Find out more about how Claddagh Coffee made the switch.
Preapproved vendor and paperless point-of-sale database
There are many providers of digital receipt services that can result in receipts that are texted or e-mailed to customers. The following company responded to the MPCA’s Request for Information: Transaction Tree.
Digital POS products
Before exploring new POS services, ask your POS provider if e-receipts or digital receipts are an option with your current system. Some businesses find they can start offering e-receipts just by tweaking their current system.
If e-receipts aren’t an option in your current system, then choose your solution.
Digital receipt software
Easily downloaded and integrated, these software providers have a simple solution that uses existing POS equipment to connect a transaction and receipt to a customer’s email address. Customers can still request a physical, paper receipt as an option.
Installation, around $50
10% and 30 day free trial
Jason Shapiro: email@example.com
Monthly SaaS (Software as a Service) subscription fee per store; varies depending on size of retailer.
Monthly fee reduction
Alex Kayser: firstname.lastname@example.org
Simple digital receipt POS products
In combination with receipt software, these physical electronic devices are used as front counter mobile applications to swipe cards, capture signatures and ask customers to provide their email information (at initial transaction) to get e-receipts. Often used with smartphones, computers, or tablets.
Equipment rent/lease/purchase available. Monthly fee and transaction fees may apply. Request information through website for phone or in person follow-up.
Application is free to download. No additional per transaction fees.
Equipment free for qualified businesses. 2.26% per credit-card swipe. No contracts. Most applicable for service-based businesses like car dealers, veterinary clinics, hospitals. Minnesota representative: Nick Belford, 763-273-7710.
$80 one-time set-up fee if you don’t have compatible software.
Purchase of hardware from company. Monthly services, one register - $49/month.
No set-up fees or long-term contracts. Pay 2.75% per swipe for all major credit cards.
Complete integrated retail paperless solutions
A powerful range of retail products combine innovative front-counter POS and back-office management, option to conducts sales from handheld mobile devices, and integration with e-commerce and marketing resources. All providers below have a digital receipt option as part of their all-in-one solution.
- Aldelo Systems
- ASI /Restaurant Manager
- Future POS Inc.
- Granbury Restaurant Solutions
- Light Speed
- Menusoft/Digital Dining
- NCR/Radiant Systems
- ParTech Inc. (PAR)
- PC America
- SilverWare POS Inc.
- Speedline Solutions
- Squirrel Systems
* denotes a Preferred Vendor that responded to MPCA Request for Information
Madalyn Cioci, 651-757-2276