Case studies: BPA in Thermal Paper Project

MPCA’s Green Chemistry and Design staff are encouraging Minnesota businesses to voluntarily reduce the amount of thermal receipt papers they use and distribute to their customers. These papers typically contain relatively high concentrations of the chemical bisphenol-A or related chemicals.

The idea is catching on, and many businesses have made the change on their own. Check out these case studies.

Minnesota businesses are reducing their use of thermal receipts. Many see cost saving and efficiency gains as well.

photo of paperless receipt using a tablet device

Claddagh Coffee in St. Paul is one of those businesses that has moved to paperless receipts.

Mary Hogan-Bard, owner of Claddagh Coffee, rattles off a list of good outcomes from switching from the old paper-based receipt system to Square, a digital point-of-sale system in May 2013. “Everything has been great. People love it. We’re saving money. And tips have gone way up. We didn’t expect that,” she said.

Claddagh now gives customers the choice of getting a digital receipt by email or text, getting a paper receipt or getting no receipt at all. Since the change, only about 1 in 10 people ask for a paper receipt. That’s a 90 percent reduction in use of thermal paper, which typically contains endocrine active chemicals like bisphenol A (BPA) that can be absorbed through receipt handling. By making the switch, shop employees handle fewer receipts and reduce their BPA exposure and there are fewer chemically laden receipts getting into the recycling stream or into landfills.

“We haven’t bought receipt paper in four months!” said Patrick Gavin, general manager.

Overall, Gavin says they are saving $300 a month. The new iPad-based system cost less than $1,000 to set up, so payback on that investment was just a couple of months. Claddagh now has a slim iPad in a hinged, rustic wood frame that frees up counter space. It rotates in place so that the employee rings up the sale then flips the iPad over for the customer to indicate any tip and sign. The receipt will be sent wherever the customer wants. Transactions are very quick.

“People like not getting the paper receipt, they think it’s cool, they like to sign with their hand,” says Gavin. “The best thing about it is that my younger employees understand it so much better. It’s easy to teach people to use this system. The hardest part was putting everything from the old system into Square, but that was not a huge deal at all. Square has a few little quirks, but it’s so inexpensive. There are other systems out there that might be even smoother, if you are willing to pay a small monthly fee.”

Gavin’s overall assessment? “I love this system. I’d recommend going paperless to all kinds of small businesses.”

MPCA staff are encouraging Minnesota businesses to voluntarily reduce the amount of thermal receipt papers they use and distribute to their customers. These papers typically contain relatively high concentrations of the chemical bisphenol-A (BPA), an endocrine active compound, or similar chemicals. These chemicals act as a developer in the thermal printing process; they are unbound and wipe easily off the paper and can be absorbed through the skin.

The Birchwood Café, a small restaurant with two registers, took note of these concerns and allowed their paper to be tested. They were using a paper listed as BPA-free. Test results showed that it contained bisphenol-S (BPS), which recent research shows has endocrine active behavior similar to BPA.

Upon re-opening after a major remodel, the Birchwood Café made changes in how they processed transactions. Previously they had to print a guest receipt for every credit card customer. They reprogrammed their existing point-of-sale system to give them options and allow them to reduce the amount of thermal paper they use. Now, they no longer automatically print a copy of a credit card receipt for a guest; they only print one if the customer asks for it.

They are now using 130 fewer rolls of paper per year, an 8% reduction from their baseline. With less paper used, there is less exposure to BPS. They are saving $195 per year in paper purchases.

These numbers may seem small but since the Birchwood has seen an up-tick in business after their re-opening, it points to an even more positive outcome.

Jay Botten, Controller for the Birchwood Café, is pleased. In his words, “Saving money while protecting staff, guests and the environment is a good thing.”

 

Coffee-shop

Thermal receipt papers typically contain relatively high concentrations of the chemical Bisphenol-A (BPA) or its chemical cousin, Bisphenol-S (BPS). These chemicals are endocrine active compounds. They are unbound and wipe easily off the paper and can be absorbed through the skin.

The Coffee Shop Northeast, a small restaurant, allowed their thermal paper to be tested and learned that it contained BPS.

The Coffee Shop Northeast took advantage of a grant opportunity with the MPCA and received $1,000 of grant funding for reimbursement for a 21 month subscription to ShopKeep.

Before their switch, they had 2 thermal printers: one for the cash register and one for credit cards. It was easy to skip printing a cash-payment receipt if declined by the customer, but all credit card receipts had to be printed because they had to capture the signature. They would print 100-150 credit card receipts in a day and they would print a roll to hold their daily receipt totals. They used 700 rolls (or 98 pounds) of thermal paper per year.

Different steps were taken for their switch. They subscribed to ShopKeep, spent $1400 on an iPad and stand, cash drawer, 2 printers, and a credit card swiper and trained their staff on the new register system. They kept 1 thermal printer in case a customer still wants a receipt and kept their bond printer for kitchen orders.

Now, they don’t print any credit card receipts; customers sign those receipts with their finger. They hardly use any thermal paper any more. They don’t expect to use more than 10 rolls of thermal paper over the next year. They still buy bond paper for food orders to their kitchen. With bond paper purchases and $49/month for the subscription service, costs balance savings on thermal paper purchases.

They see actual savings because they no longer need to lease a credit card machine reducing leasing costs by $60/month ($720/year).

Daily receipt totals go to the cloud; there is no need to print them which saves ½ hour per day of staff time. They are open 365 days/year, so their time saved is 182.5 hours/year.

Ninety-five percent of their customers don’t request a receipt. Two percent request an electronic receipt. Three percent request a paper receipt. Things seem to be going well.

 

The North Branch DQ Grill & Chill allowed their thermal paper to be tested. Results showed that it contained BPS.

This DQ took advantage of a grant opportunity with the MPCA and received $1,000 of grant funding for reimbursement for an 18 month subscription to Transaction Tree. This electronic transaction service works with their existing point-of-sale (POS) system. They now have the capability to send an e-receipt.

They also reprogrammed their POS to not automatically print a receipt. The cashier must press OK on a screen to print a receipt if the customer wants it. This has made a big impact. They used to print a receipt for 100% of their customers. They now ask customers if they would like a receipt; only about 40% request a receipt.

They have taken steps to help prevent pollution and they’re seeing results.

 

Mississippi Market (MM) operates three co-operatively owned grocery stores, serving over 17,000 member-owners and the public. The option for e-receipts was welcomed by both member-owners and employees.

When news first broke that thermal paper could contain Bisphenol A (BPA), MM switched to a BPA-free paper. The sample of the paper that MPCA tested contained the common BPA-alternative, Bisphenol S (BPS). Recently, one of their stores (1500 W 7th Street) has switched to a Vitamin C-based receipt paper.

MM took several other steps to reduce the total amount of thermal paper they used.

Launched e-receipt option

In early 2014, MM began testing e-receipts for employees. Employees found the system easy to use and liked the digital receipt option. MM launched the e-receipt option for all member-owners on April 1 that year. The e-receipt option was enabled via a no-cost upgrade of POS software, making the e-receipts easy to offer to member-owners. Their system isn’t yet able to offer e-receipts for non-member customers.

At the register, a member customer gives their e-mail once and then are “in the system.” If it is busy at the store, the customer writes their e-mail on a slip of paper and it is entered for them later by the cashier.

Employee training

MM sent out information about BPA and BPS to cashiers, along with tips for minimizing exposure. Later, they also trained employees on how to offer e-receipts.

Communication

MM created customer-facing communication to share news of the e-receipt option. The message for customers emphasized convenience and efficiency rather than chemical reduction.

In the first three months of implementation of the e-receipts, they used about the same amount of paper in one of their stores, but 18% less paper in the other store from the same 3 months in the prior year, even as store sales grew. After the first month, they had about 175 customers getting e-receipts. Three months later, that number was over 700 after the employees made a concerted effort to entice member-owners to e-receipts. They expect that paper use will continue to drop as more member-owners opt in to e-receipts.

“It’s reducing the amount of chemical our employees handle daily, reducing our paper use, and saving us a little money. It was an easy change to make and both customers and employees are happy to have this option available now,” said Liz McMann, Consumer Affairs Manager.

 

Linden Hills Co-op, a Minneapolis grocery store, uses a thermal paper that is provided to them free of charge because it carries advertisements printed on the back. The paper sample tested by the Minnesota Department of Health Environmental Lab contained BPA at 57 micrograms per sq. cm, an estimated 1.4% BPA by weight. Even prior to getting the test results, the Co-op employees were eager to take steps to reduce their potential chemical exposure through thermal paper and urged the Co-op to shift to BPA-free or e-receipts.

Once the MPCA reached out, the Co-op was quick to take some steps and got great results.

  • Employee training and information:  Right away, the Co-op shared tips for reducing exposure with their employees. Better paper handling tips were incorporated into the employee safety training manual so all new employees will receive that information.
  • Receipt opt-out option:  Jolene Parker, Customer Service Manager, reached out to their POS provider, Catapult, and discovered the system already had an opt-out receipt feature; it simply needed to be activated.  Prior to this change, if a member-owner didn’t want a receipt, it would be printed anyway and recycled at the register. Cashiers maximized the opt-out system. When member-owner customers declined receipts, cashiers set the POS to never give a receipt unless the customer changed his/her mind.
  • Shift to e-receipts:  The Co-op began offering e-receipts in late 2014.  Their IT staff worked with Catapult to turn on the newly improved “e-receipt” feature of the existing POS system and made sure it integrated with the rest of the Co-op’s integrated record keeping system.
  • Communication to customers:  The Co-op advertised the “opt-out” option in their newsletter to member-owners, emphasizing that it would reduce “receipt clutter” and the amount of paper used and disposed. They alerted members that an e-receipt option would be coming in the fall.

By offering and promoting the no-receipt option, the Co-op dropped their paper use by about 37%, from 800 rolls a year (16 cases a year) to 500  rolls a year (just 10 cases a year), and reduced by the same percentage the amount of BPA going through cashiers’ and customers’ hands and into the environment.  They expect that the newly launched e-receipt option will further reduce paper use.