Delicious Living Blog

Time to phase out harmful thermal-paper receipts?

Taking BPA out of thermal-paper receipts didn't fix the problem. A new study shows that people who work with thermal receipts and paper currency—cash register checkers—are being exposed to high levels of BPS, a BPA substitute that may be just as toxic.

BPA-free. It’s a reassuring label stuck onto plastic water bottles and the like. Earlier this week, the FDA finally banned use of the estrogen-mimicking chemical in baby bottles and sippy cups—at the request of the American Chemistry Council (no less!), which hopes the news will boost consumer confidence.

Manufacturers have led the way with phasing out BPA; in fact, the FDA declined to mandate a broader ban, stating that it continues to “support its safe use.”

Natural consumers aren’t buying it. And many of them are informed enough to know that BPA isn’t just in plastic: It’s also the lining of canned foods and other food packaging, as well in thermal-paper receipts. It’s tough, but I do my best to avoid all of the above whenever possible.

What about BPA alternatives, you ask. From reports I’ve read, the only sure thing these alternatives offer is that they are not BPA. Like so many chemicals in use, these have not been tested, especially not for their effect in humans, much less their potential cumulative effects when combined with the other common chemicals.

So my antennae perked up when I saw a recent study, published in the Journal of Environmental Science & Technology, that people are being exposed to even higher levels of bisphenol-S (BPS), a popular BPA analog, through cash register thermal paper receipts and even paper money.

Researchers found BPS in 87 percent of paper currency from the United States, Japan, Korea and Vietnam; and in 52 percent of recycled paper samples. Incredibly, the estimate that people may be absorbing 19 times more BPS than they did BPA. And the kicker: People who handle thermal paper receipts in their jobs may be absorbing even more. That’s your checkers—or anyone who runs a cash register.

So what’s a natural retailer to do to safeguard the health of your employees—and your customers?

1. Email receipts. The Gap, Nordstrom and other retailers now offer these, and although I initially hesitated to share my email due to concerns about spam, I am learning to like emails better than messy piles of paper receipts. I can choose to delete or save the emails later at home. Of course, this option also saves paper (and trees).

This transition may be a tougher sell in grocery stores, where customers are in a hurry and may not want to share their email address; some are also in the habit of checking their paper receipt for errors. (These days, though, display screens make it easy to check items as they’re scanned.)

Richard Bell, of Loval, Canada-based LOC Software, which develops POS software systems, says emailed receipts are gaining steam in “the organic world” as a green service, but not yet in mass supermarkets. His company offers software options, or he says retailers can subscribe to an outside service that managed emailing receipts. Myreceipts and Seamless Receipts also provide software.

2. Ask whether shoppers want a printed receipt. This is now common practice in local Whole Foods Markets, and I almost always decline. Alternatively, Bell says there are systems where you can print a stub receipt to serve as proof the customer paid, then email a complete receipt.

3. Link emailed receipts to your loyalty program. If your customers already sign up for your e-newsletter or loyalty program, explore ways that you canadd email receipt service in a seamless way. Ideally, these services will reinforce each other and grow your digital reach and relationship with loyal shoppers.

4. Educate your shoppers about the issue. Some customers may have a tough time with the transition, so phase it in slowly and/or partially—and post signage that explains why you’re doing it. As a temporary fix, wearing protective gloves seems like a smart idea for your checkers.

Do you use thermal-paper receipts in your store? Have you worked to phase them out—and if so, how? Please share your experience in comments.

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