Thermal paper, the slightly shiny paper you’ll see most often in the form of receipts, contains chemicals that allow printing to happen through heat transfer, rather than with ink. One of the chemicals thermal paper relies on is bisphenol A, or BPA, which studies indicate is a “reproductive, developmental, and systemic toxicant in animal studies” and may disrupt the endocrine system. Research has linked BPA to an increased risk of breast and prostate cancers, cardiovascular disease, and reproductive and brain development abnormalities. Yet thermal paper is the most common paper used for receipt printing nowadays. A 2011 study found that 94 percent of receipts tested contained BPA, and that receipts alone contributed an estimated 33.5 tons of BPA to the environment every year in the U.S. and Canada.
A quick test can tell you if the paper you’re handling is of the thermal type. Scratch the printed side of the paper. If you see a dark mark, the paper is thermal.
Because BPA may be tough to remove during the paper recycling process, and can find its way into new recycled paper products, keep your receipts out of the recycling bin. Try to reduce the number of receipts that you collect in the first place. If paperless e-receipts are an option, consider having one emailed to you instead of getting a printout. Otherwise, ask your cashier if you can forgo the receipt entirely, then track the purchase manually or with a mobile app for your budgeting. If you’re a regular at a local business, you may even want to explain the situation and ask if traditional receipt paper and ink would be a workable option for them. And if you still wind up with thermal paper receipts, trash them.
Concerns about the safety of BPA have prompted a federal ban on the chemical in baby bottles and sippy cups, and some manufacturers have now removed it from water bottles and food containers.