If you are an employee who handles receipts (like a waiter, cashier, or librarian) or you run a business that gives out receipts, you are likely using thermal paper coated with either Bisphenol A (BPA) or its chemical cousin, Bisphenol S (BPS). All of the 18 thermal papers we tested in 2014 were coated with either BPA or BPS.
More recent studies show more companies now using more BPS than BPA, but together, the two chemicals still dominate the U.S. thermal receipt paper market and raise similar human health concerns, particularly the disruption of endocrine (hormone-regulating) systems.
We now know that thermal receipt paper, used widely every day, is another way that BPA, BPS, and other chemicals get into our bodies. 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 or nursing women or women of childbearing age and adolescents of both sexes who are still developing.
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 strategies — see Strategies section below.
- Ask customers “Do you want your receipt?” If they decline it, don’t print it! This simple step can cut paper use by around 30%.
- Don’t print merchant copies of receipts if your system already keeps an electronic record. This can cut paper use by 50%.
- Don’t put offers and coupons on thermal receipts given to all customers. Find ways to target this information better, or distribute it by other means or types of paper
- Offer digital or e-receipts to reduce paper use — see the reports and POS sections below to find case studies and e-receipt options.
- If you have to print receipts for customers, switch to non-phenol thermal receipt papers. We have identified two types that do not contain BPA or BPS, and are reasonably competitive on price. One contains ascorbic acid (vitamin C), and the other contains urea-based Pergafast 201 — see the phenol-free paper suppliers section below.
Alister Innes, 651-757-2457.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Pollution Prevention Program provided initial funding for MPCA's work on thermal paper.
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 other 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 and lakes and streams.
- Endocrine Active Chemicals and Other Contaminants of Emerging Concern in Minnesota’s Groundwater, 2009-2010
- 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.
Are there better paper options? Should I choose papers labeled “BPA-free”?
Thermal receipt papers advertised as "BPA free" usually use BPS as the substitute, which has a similar structure to BPA has effects on the endocrine and reproductive systems of mammals at low doses.
“Phenol-free” thermal receipt papers are not embedded with BPA or BPS, and contain either ascorbic acid (which is featured in the EPA’s Safer Chemical Ingredients List) or Pergafast 201, a urea-based chemical. These papers are not likely to affect human and animal endocrine systems and reproductive health. Pergafast 201 may still cause environmental harm if released to the environment. Click on the adjacent tabs for more information on these options.
The best option is to switch to e-receipts that are texted or e-mailed to customers. And look for “phenol-free” paper if you must give paper receipts.
Can I recycle thermal receipt paper?
We recommend you do not put thermal receipt paper in your recycling bin. BPA and other chemicals embedded in thermal paper can end up in wastewater from recycling plants or minimally contaminate other papers in the recycling stream. Some cities across the country consider these chemicals papers contaminants in the recycling stream. For the same reason, you should not compost your receipts.
MPCA research and three short videos provide introductory information about BPA in thermal paper.
MPCA tests found that of 18 thermal receipts tested, 9 contained BPA and 9 contained a related chemical, BPS. (2014)
This paper reports results of a range of business actions taken to reduce thermal paper receipt use. (2015)
- Just asking “Do you want your receipt?” reduced paper use up to 30%.
- Eliminating printing merchant copies of receipts when they are already kept electronically can cut paper use by 50%.
- Working with just eight small businesses to make simple changes resulted in an estimated 100 lbs of BPA/BPS reduction over the year and more than 3 tons of paper.
These three short videos provide introductory information about BPA in thermal paper. The videos mention an assistance program for hospitality businesses, which ended in 2014. However, the rest of the information presented in the videos remains useful.
BPA in thermal paper: What is it?
Information about chemical developers in thermal papers (specifically BPA).
Paperless point-of-sale products
Strategies to reduce employee and customer exposure
Ways that employers and employees can reduce environmental releases and human exposure to BPA and BPS via thermal receipt papers.
There are many providers of digital receipt services that can result in receipts that are texted or e-mailed to customers.
Digital POS products
Before exploring new point of sale services (POS), 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 what they have.
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
Jason Shapiro: email@example.com
Monthly SaaS (Software as a Service) subscription fee per store; varies depending on size of retailer.
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.
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.
Integrated retail paperless solutions
A range of retail products that combine innovative front-counter POS and back-office management, conduct sales from handheld mobile devices, and integrate 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
- ParTech Inc. (PAR)
- PC America
- SilverWare POS Inc.
- Speedline Solutions
- Squirrel Systems
To be listed as an e-receipt POS vendor, contact Alister Innes at the MPCA for assistance.
There are currently two common types of phenol-free receipt papers on the market. Although the price of phenol-free options is currently slightly higher compared to BPA thermal paper, it is becoming more cost-competitive due to higher market demand.
- Appvion Alpha Free paper is formulated with ascorbic acid (vitamin C). This paper has a natural light yellow shade on the frontside due to the vitamin and a white backside.
- Koehler Paper Group uses Pergafast 201 as a substitute for BPA.
As a color developer in thermal paper, Pergafast can create an image as dark as BPA can, on a white background. This chemical requires purchasers to weigh trade-offs: it does not have human hormone-disrupting effects, but has been evaluated by the EPA Design for the Environment program as having high aquatic toxicity and very high persistence in the environment. On the other hand, ascorbic acid-based paper fades quickly, and therefore is most suitable for short-life receipts. Ascorbic acid is verified to be of low concern by the EPA’s Safer Chemical Ingredients List.
Ask your distributor if they provide phenol-free receipt rolls. The following companies replied to the MPCA’s request for information. If your company would like to be listed, contact Al Innes at the MPCA.
Most of these companies offer price discount if you buy in bulk.
Some companies offer a wider range of paper roll size than listed on their websites. Please contact them to find the product most suited for your need.
- Bayscan (Vitamin C)
- Beagle Hardware (Vitamin C)
- Biomass Packaging (Vitamin C)
- National Checking (Vitamin C, special order only)
- Paper-net (Vitamin C)
- Paper Roll Products (Vitamin C, Pergafast)
- Pospaper (Pergafast)
- Possupply (Pergafast)
- Printerstock (Pergafast)
- Telemark Diversified Graphics (Vitamin C, special order only)
- Thermal Roll (Vitamin C)
- Western Diazo (Vitamin C)