Why you may want a refund on your receipt

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We all handle paper receipts every day, but have you ever wondered what they are made from? Up to 94% of receipts are made from paper that has been coated in Bisphenol A (BPA),[1] a chemical with known endocrine-disrupting actions.[2] [3] BPA has been associated with numerous reproductive and developmental effects in animals[4] and recent studies have also shown that BPA poses a potential health risk to unborn children.[5] One investigation of BPA levels in the umbilical cord blood of 85 pregnant women showed the presence of BPA in all samples, either in its free or conjugated form, suggesting potential universal BPA exposure of pregnant women and thus their unborn babies.[6] In France, as of 2015, BPA was completely banned from use in any form of food contact material, however it is still freely marketed in other parts of the world, or has simply been replaced with other substances, such as bisphenols S or F, which have also been shown to have similar, if not worse, endocrine disrupting actions.[7]

BPA has been shown to contaminate the blood and urine of anyone touching a receipt, particularly if after using skin care products such as hand sanitizer, which makes the skin more permeable.[8] This systemic exposure is particularly worrying for those who are regularly exposed to receipts, such as cashiers or check-out workers. One study looking at BPA in cashiers showed that BPA from receipts can enter the skin to such a depth that it cannot be washed away,[9] whilst another showed a significant increase in BPA in the urine of cashiers handling receipts on a daily basis.[10] In fact retail workers have an average of 30% more BPA in their bodies than other adults.[11]

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) in the US commissioned an investigation into receipts that showed the total amount of BPA on a receipt was 250-1,000 times greater than that typically found in a food tin, or that leaches from a BPA-based plastic bottle into its contents.[11] Unlike BPA in plastic bottles and other products, the BPA on thermal paper isn’t chemically bound in any way and resides as a powdery film on the paper’s surface. This dramatically increases the exposure upon handling. Worryingly,  if receipts are recycled, as most people would, the BPA they contain can then contaminate recycled paper products, such as toilet paper, napkins, paper food packaging and other paper products.[1]

So how can you reduce your exposure? You can protect yourself by minimising receipt handling whenever possible, especially after applying skincare products to the hands. And by choosing the recycling method of composting rather than reusing the recyclates for the food contact material, you can protect others and the environment too.


[1] Liao, C, Kannan, K. (2011) Widespread occurrence of bisphenol A in paper and paper products: implications for human exposure. Environ Sci Technol. 45(21). 9372-9.

[2] Vandenberg LN, Colborn T, Hayes TB, Heindel JJ, Jacobs DR Jr, Lee DH, Myers JP, Shioda T, Soto AM, vom Saal FS,Welshons WV, Zoeller RT. (2013) Regulatory decisions on endocrine disrupting chemicals should be based on theprinciples of endocrinology. Reprod Toxicol. 38. 1-15.

[3] Lahimer, MC, Ayed, N, Horriche, J, Belgaied, S. (2013) Characterization of plastic packaging additives: Food contact, stability and toxicity. Arab J Chem. In press. doi:10.1016/j.arabjc.2013.07.022

[4] Jiang, X,Chen, HQ, Cui, ZH, Yin, L, Zhang, WL, Liu, WB, Han, F, Ao L,, Cao, J, Liu, JY. (2016) Low-dose and combined effects of oral exposure to bisphenol A and diethylstilbestrol on the male reproductive system in adult Sprague-Dawley rats. Environ Toxicol Pharmacol. 43. 94-102.

[5] Mersha, MD, Patel, BM, Patel, D, Richardson, BN, Dhillon, HS. (2015) Effects of BPA and BPS exposure limited to early embryogenesis persist to impair non-associative learning in adults. Behav Brain Funct. 11. 27.

[6] Gerona, RR, Woodruff, TJ, Dickenson, CA, Pan, J, Schwartz, JM, Sen, S, Friesen, MW, Fujimoto, VY, Hunt, PA. (2013) Bisphenol-A (BPA), BPA Glucuronide, and BPA Sulfate in Midgestation Umbilical Cord Serum in a Northern and Central California Population. Environ Sci Technol. 47(21). 12,477-85

[7] Eladak, S, Grisin, T, Moison, D, Guerquin, MJ, N'Tumba-Byn, T, Pozzi-Gaudin, S, Benachi, A, Livera, G, Rouiller-Fabre, V, Habert R. (2015) A new chapter in the bisphenol A story: bisphenol S and bisphenol F are not safe alternatives to this compound. Fertil Steril. 103(1). 11-21.

[8] Hormann, AM, vorn Saal, FS, Nagel, SC, Stahlhut, RW, Moyer, CL, Ellersieck, MR, Welshons, WV, Toutain, P-L, Taylor, JA. (2014) Holding Thermal Receipt Paper and Eating Food after Using Hand Sanitizer Results in High Serum Bioactive and Urine Total Levels of Bisphenol A (BPA). PLoS One. 9(10). e110509.

[9] Biedermann, S, Tschudin, P, Grob, K. (2010) Transfer of bisphenol A from thermal printer paper to the skin. Anal Bioanal Chem. 398(1). 571-6. 

[10] Ndaw, S, Remy, A, Jargot, D, Robert, A. (2016) Occupational exposure of cashiers to Bisphenol A via thermal paper: urinary biomonitoring study. Int Arch Occup Environ Health. [epub]

[11] EWG (2010) BPA coats cash register receipts: tests find chemical-laden receipts at national retailers. Retrieved May 2016 from, 


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