When consumers are concerned, businesses sometimes respond. That seems to be the case with a voluntary phase-out of BPA-laden store receipts made from thermal paper with a certain coating. Over the past couple of years, the nation's two largest retailers have both announced a conversion to all BPA-free cash register receipts. They followed suit with the nation's third largest retailer, that had already gone to BPA-free receipts. Additionally, a major supplier of paper for receipts says it has been BPA-free since 2006. Bill Van Den Brandt with Appleton Direct Thermal Paper says the company supplies the wholesale product in industrial-sized rolls for about half of the North American market.
A report published in 2010 by the independent Environmental Working Group
pointed out that the hormone disrupting chemical BPA could be found on thermal-printed receipt paper at a wide range of businesses. Since then, some have apparently taken steps to convert to BPA-free receipt paper, although it's not always evident at the point of sale. Appleton Direct
offers a BPA-free version with special red markings on the back, while other BPA-free versions, including some by Appleton, may not look or feel different than any other thermal paper. A few other suppliers also provide receipt paper.
The nation's largest retailer, Walmart, has responded since the EWG study by converting to all BPA-free receipts in its US stores. Walmart
spokesperson Brooke Buchanan says the company looked for alternatives last year. “Yes, the receipts are BPA-free," says Buchanan, "The safety of our customers and our associates is a top priority for us.”
As 2011 draws to a close, second-largest retailer, Kroger, is assuring customers that it, too, has been converting to BPA-free receipt paper. Kroger spokesperson Keith Dailey directed me to Kroger's official statement on Bisphenol A, which in part states, "By the end of 2011, customers can be sure that their receipt tape is free of any inks or processes that result in the presence of BPA." You can see the entire Kroger statement, which also addresses BPA in can linings, at this link
Third-largest retailer, Target, confirms that its stores have already been using BPA-free receipt paper for a while now. "All of the receipts at Target
stores are BPA-free and have been for more than three years," says spokesperson Jenna Reck.
Van Den Brandt explained that his paper company has already found another way to provide the color-printing quality needed on thermal paper without using BPA. "There are other ingredients that can do that and it's simply substituting one ingredient for another." He didn't share specifics on what those chemicals are, but he noted a larger effort involving the Environmental Protection Agency
, "We're working with the EPA and others to find alternatives to BPA for thermal paper," says Van Den Brandt.
The EPA says on its website about BPA Alternatives, "Some receipts made of thermal paper may now contain as much as 10 mg. of BPA, which could pose a risk for human exposure, as well as account for substantial environmental releases of BPA. The goal of this assessment is to facilitate movement towards safer alternatives used in thermal paper."
Despite these industry and government efforts, there is still no guarantee that every receipt you get handed will be the newly formulated paper. It's also not clear when all businesses will run out of their old stocks of receipts. Appleton sponsors the BPA-Free Receipts
page on Facebook that often includes mentions of smaller businesses that are using BPA-free versions of the paper product.
You should have seen the stunned looks from store clerks whom I've asked if the receipts they're handing me are BPA-free. This has been at grocery stores, discount stores, even a so-called healthy grocery store. The clerks, those who handle the receipts every day, had no idea what I was talking about. Some said they would check with their management. I hope they do, more so for their own health than for mine.
Until BPA is not allowed in consumer products or until all retailers can clearly inform me at the point of sale that their receipts are BPA-free, I'll sometimes risk the strange looks and ask clerks to drop the receipt in an envelope for me. I also decline receipts for small purchases and at gas pumps, another tip from EWG. Of course, the trend toward BPA-free receipts still leaves most of us with drawers full of questionable ones we've been saving for tax or business purposes. Wait until my husband finds out we need gloves just to do taxes.
Several consumer and health groups have been calling for bans on BPA and for more common sense rules about chemicals. Although this hasn't entirely happened, BPA-free receipts seem to show that big business can listen and respond to consumers.