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Millions of People Exposed to Bisphenols While Shopping Every Day

Health + Wellness
Hero Images / Getty Images

By Leah Segedie

It seems like such a simple thing, but the act of signing and handling a receipt can increase the amount of hormone disrupting chemicals bisphenol-A (BPA) or bisphenol-S (BPS) inside your body significantly. And this is problematic if you are trying to lose weight, wanting to have calm and intelligent children one day, suffering from anxiety, depression, inflammation or food sensitivities or wanting to avoid cancers. Bisphenols (BPA & BPS) have the ability to hijack your hormonal systems at very small levels, so what are they doing in thermal receipt paper and how are they getting into our bodies? That answer is complicated but here we go!


About 9 out of 10 retail stores are using thermal receipt paper that is coated with bisphenol powder and it reacts with heat and friction to create the ink you see. This is incredibly problematic because it's in powder form and easily gets on to your hands when you are signing and handling receipts. Then within seconds it can get into your bloodstream. This wouldn't be a big deal if we were talking about something like alcohol, which is inside antibacterial gels because dose equals the poison. But bisphenols have demonstrated through studies that smaller amounts can cause damage to the hormonal system and therefore that rule doesn't work to protect the public. In fact, it's estimated that the amount of bisphenols you are exposed to when handling thermal receipt paper is up to 1000x more potent than the exposure from canned food. For this very reason, the handling of thermal receipt paper is a very relevant public health concern that retailers need to get a handle on to protect their customers and workers.

So what are they doing about it? Well, not much. Why? There isn't enough public pressure yet.

National Stores Guilty of Contaminating Customers with Bisphenols in Receipts

Earlier this year the Ecology Center took samples of thermal receipt papers at national stores and had them tested in a lab. The results were shocking. It's true that most brands had reformulated to BPA-free thermal receipt paper, but what they used instead is an equally problematic chemical called bisphenol-S (BPS), which is part of the bisphenol family. So instead of solving the problem by using green chemistry the way the consumer wants, they are switching out a similar chemical and hoping no one notices. This type of sly marketing behavior is common. Independent scientists refer to this as a "regrettable substitution" where they use a very similar sister chemical in order to give themselves a marketing benefit, but the same problem remains. If the public was expecting them to use a safer chemical, they will be disappointed because that is not what has happened. Although BPS is a younger chemical with less studies to back it's danger, the studies that have been done on it so far are pointing to it being just as bad or possibly worse than BPA. Therefore, when these brands say they are using "BPA-Free" thermal receipt paper, they are really trying to shut the conversation down by making you think they solved your problem. But they haven't. They didn't solve the problem. They sidestepped you and hoped you wouldn't notice. Sneaky, right?

Here are the results from some of the most popular national brands tested and what was inside their thermal receipt paper in powder form:

  • 7 Eleven: BPA
  • Aldi: BPA
  • Arby's: BPS
  • Baja Fresh: BPS
  • Barnes & Noble: BPS
  • Bed, Bath & Beyond: BPS
  • Ben & Jerry's: BPA
  • Best Buy: NO BISPHENOLS
  • Burger King: BPS
  • Chase Bank: BPS
  • Chipotle: BPS
  • Chuck E Cheese: BPS
  • Claire's: BPS
  • Coldstone Creamery: BPA
  • Costco: BPS
  • CVS: BPS
  • Dominos: BPA
  • DSW: BPS
  • Family Dollar: BPS
  • Great Clips: BPS
  • Home Depot: BPS
  • Home Goods: BPS
  • Justice: BPA
  • Kroger: BPS
  • Little Caesars: BPS
  • Lowes: BPS
  • McDonald's: BPS
  • Meijer: BPS
  • Michael's: BPS
  • Panda Express: BPS
  • Panera Bread: BPS
  • Petco: BPS
  • Pet Smart: BPS
  • PNC Bank: BPS
  • Rite Aid: BPS
  • Sally Beauty: BPS
  • Sears: BPS
  • Shell Gas Station: BPS
  • Staples: BPS
  • Starbucks: BPS
  • Subway: BPS
  • Target: BPS
  • Trader Joes: BPS (Note: Trader Joes is vowing to remove bisphenols by end of 2018)
  • Salvation Army: BPS
  • Toys R Us: BPS
  • Universal Studios: BPS
  • US Post Office: BPS
  • Vitamin Shoppe: BPS
  • Walgreens: BPS
  • Walmart: BPS
  • Whole Foods Market: BPS

Alternatives to Bisphenol Free Receipt Paper For Retail Stores

There are plenty solutions to retail stores out there. Did you notice that Best Buy and Trader Joes' are the stores offering receipts without bisphenols? Best Buy is using a bisphenol-free receipt paper called Pergafast and Trader Joes' just started rolling out bisphenol-free thermal receipt paper at their stores nationwide. (However, no word on what they are made of yet.) But there ARE alternatives for retail stores to consider in order to protect their customers from bisphenol exposure and here are some of them.

1. No Receipt Option. Train their staff to ask the customer if they want a receipt before they start the transaction. Best Buy does this. This will cut down on the amount of paper they use which will also save them money.

2. Provide an Optional Digital Receipt. Offer to email receipts instead. This would be the best option for someone who has a habit of losing receipts. And there is another added benefit of this adding to their marketing list provided the customer opts in.

3. Reformulate to the Pergafast 201 Thermal Receipt. The Pergafast 201 is what they have when you walk into Best Buy! Instead of using a BPA or BPS powder coating, this alternative was released in 2011. The substance doesn't easily get into the skin. In other words, not as powdery.

4. Reformulate to the Koehler-BLUE 4EST Receipts. The "blue forest" paper seems very promising and it's even won an award, but it may be having supply issues. This paper uses a physical reaction to make the text appear instead. Heat applied to the paper activates carbon black paper underneath which results in print. Unlike the phenol thermal paper, this receipt paper causes no chemical reaction. This is the first thermal paper to be approved for direct contact with food. I hope their supply issues clear up for them so we can start seeing more of this paper soon. So this is an option, but not ready for large scale distribution yet.

5. Reformulate to the Appvion-POS Alpha Free Thermal Receipt. This paper uses a vitamin C coating, which also makes it a subtle shade of yellow. But even though this receipt is slightly yellow, it doesn't affect the visibility of the text. However, there are additional additives inside the paper independent scientists are concerned about. I wouldn't recommend this option due to the additional additives they use in the paper.

6. Reformulate to the ICONEX 2ST Thermal Receipt. Not much is known about this brand other than it allows printing on both sides of the page which can cut the need for paper. No information on what it's made of.

7. Reformulate to the Koehler KT 48PF Thermal Receipt. Not much is known about this option other than it allows receipts to last up to 50 years. Again, no information on what it's made of.

After seeing all these options, it's pretty clear that the options I believe are safest and most available would be 1. Not offering a receipt, 2. Offering a digital receipt and 3. Reformualting to the Pergafast thermal receipt paper that Best Buy uses.

What You Can Do to Avoid Bisphenol Contamination When Shopping

Let's hope all these national brands switch to bisphenol-free paper soon, but as we are building awareness and educating consumers who shop at retail stores, there are some steps you can take today to protect your family.

1. Do you really need a receipt? If not, don't take it. Just say no thank you.

2. Build awareness. Ask the cashier AND/OR manager at the store if the thermal receipt paper is covered with BPA or BPS. It's unlikely they will know but ask them anyway. Tell them you are trying to avoid this hormone-disrupting chemical and you would like for them to find out. This brings the issue to the attention of the retail manager and gets them wondering about the health of their workers. The more the cashiers hear this, the more likely they will start wearing gloves to protect themselves.

3. Ask the store if they have the ability to email you the receipt instead.

4. If there is no digital receipt option available, sign the receipt paper without touching the paper. Not easy, but I've mastered it over the years. Put something weighty on the receipt OR pull your sleeve up and place your arm on it to keep it steady without touching it with your skin. Then scribble your signature on it. Your signature will start to look a bit odd but that's okay. It will still be approved.

5. Wear gloves when paying for things at the register. Place the gloves inside a baggie that doesn't contain anything else to ensure that the bisphenols don't contaminate anything else inside your purse. If you don't carry a purse, then use a baggie and stick them in your pocket.

And if you really need receipts to track things, there are about seven really good apps you can download on your mobile phone to help you take photos of your receipts and track your expenses. Click here to view that list on Mamavation.

To Take Action Today to Make Us All Safer!

Mamavation has launched a petition with Care2 with more than 33,000 signatures encouraging Target to offer digital receipts and reformulate to bisphenol-free paper. If you would like all national stores to start offering safer receipt paper, it has to start with leaders in the retail space. We believe that Target is one of those dynamic brands based on the safer chemical policies they are already putting into place. Target is already starting to restrict hormone disrupting chemicals like fire retardants, phthalates, etc. This is an action that fits perfectly in their new direction. We want to show them that their customers DO care about this health issue and want them to lead in this direction.

Click here to sign the petition and if you want to be part of the Mamavation movement to solve this problem sign up for our newsletter here and we will keep you informed. And for more information about how to avoid chemicals that can disrupt your hormones, pick up a copy of Green Enough: Eat Better, Live Cleaner, Be Happier (All Without Driving Your Family Crazy!).

Leah Segedie is the founder of the Mamavation® community, ShiftCon Social Media Conference, food activist and social media consultant.

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