By Jason Giovannettone, Climate and Sustainability Director
One common item that has serious environmental and health impacts is the receipt. In a 2019 report provided by Green America, it was estimated that the production of receipts in the United States alone has the following yearly environmental impacts :
- consumes 3 million trees
- uses 9 billion gallons of water
- generates 4 billion pounds of carbon dioxide
- creates 302 million pounds of solid waste
In addition to the above concerns, the thermal paper used for receipts contains high levels of BPA (Bisphenol A), which is a chemical commonly found in plastic packaging. Sufficient exposure to BPA can lead to serious health problems such as infertility, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and the early onset of puberty, and diabetes. As a result, most of us have seen the “BPA Free” label on plastic containers and cans as part of an effort to reduce our exposure. BPA is used as a color developer on heat sensitive or thermal paper like a receipt. Since the BPA is added and not chemically bonded to the paper, it can readily be transferred to your hands when touching a receipt (see this article for more details).
Additionally, other things commonly found on hands, including sanitizers, creams, sweat or grease, can exacerbate exposure to BPA when touching a receipt. A 2014 Newsweek article highlights a study that found because many commonly used hand sanitizers contain chemicals that enhance dermal (skin) penetration, their application can increase the skin’s absorption of BPA by up to 100 times. This is of particular concern if you touch food shortly after touching a receipt, such as at a restaurant or after leaving a grocery store. If you end up putting the receipt in your pocket, there is an additional concern that BPA will transfer onto anything that touches the receipt such as your keys, phone, or wallet; this will result in unknowing exposure to BPA when you handle any of these objects.
Opt for no receipt at any restaurant or store you visit; an email receipt is also good if given the option. Avoid storing past receipts in your wallet. Instead, store them in a bag or box that minimizes contact with other commonly handled items.