Get full report PDF here (impacts & methodology section has recent updates from Jan 2019)
Paper receipts are tiny items with unnecessary environmental impacts and health risks for workers and customers. Every year in the United States, receipts use over 3 million trees, 9 billion gallons of water and generate 302 million pounds of solid waste (from production & disposal) and 4 billion pounds of greenhouse gases. Extraction and use of these resources have impacts, a reminder that we need to continue replacing outdated, wasteful items with innovative solutions.
Receipts also pose considerable health risks to the people who regularly are in contact with them. An estimated 93 percent of paper receipts are coated with Bisphenol-A (BPA) or Bisphenol-S (BPS), known endocrine-disruptors, which serve as color-developers to make the text appear on receipts. When we touch receipts, the chemical coating is absorbed into our bodies through our hands in mere seconds. Researchers at the New York State Department of Health documented connections between BPA exposures and developmental and neurological problems. BPA impacts fetal development and is linked to reproductive impairment, type 2 diabetes, thyroid conditions, and other health concerns. Companies have sought out “non-BPA” paper, but the typical replacement is BPS, a similar chemical which research indicates has similarly detrimental effects as BPA.
Retail employees are at the greatest risk, as studies show workers who have regular contact with receipts have over 30 percent more BPA or BPS found in their bodies, and many employees may exceed the European Union’s limit for safe amount of BPA to absorb in a day (which is 4 micrograms per kilogram of body weight). As of 2014, nearly 81 percent of Americans were shown to have detectable levels of BPS in their urine, and nearly 90% of human exposure to BPS comes from thermal paper receipts coated with the substance.
There are many ways a business can address its waste, which will not only lessen environmental impacts but also cut operating costs considerably. Receipts are an item with readily available alternatives that companies can implement today on the path to reducing waste overall.
Innovative companies are using available options that can lessen environmental impacts and reduce health risks for employees and customers. There are many existing solutions which eliminate the need for phenol-coated paper which we discuss in this report, including:
- Dynamic receipts are digital receipts used to provide future marketing opportunities with customer consent.
- Card readers for smartphones and tablets offer paperless transactions that are seamless and secure.
- Digital receipt software is available that works with various point of sale hardware, meaning companies do not need to make changes to their registers.
- Phenol-free receipt paper options that are already successfully being used by major retailers across the country.