Story by Bailey Walker
Photo by Michelle Rojano
Nearly every time someone purchases something, they receive something extra for free. People often do not have a choice in whether or not they are gifted with a receipt with their transactions, a piece of the 4 million pounds of waste that these transaction records become each day.
Ninety-three percent of Americans have no choice in whether Bisphenol A, commonly known as BPA, ends up in their body when handling these bits of paper.
The saturation of receipts is not a common experience around the globe; North America takes up 37 percent of the total market for thermal receipts, with a dollar amount of 1.2 billion. Europe follows closely with a dollar amount of 880 million.
The negative impact of receipt circulation goes beyond landfill real estate. According to the Clinton Global Initiative, 250 million gallons of oil, 10 million trees and one billion gallons of water go into the production of these receipts annually.
Thermal paper receipts are printed by applying heat to a reactive coating containing BPA or BPS (Bisphenol S). Both BPA and BPS are chemicals that have been linked to adverse health effects such as endocrine disruption, cancers and metabolic disorders, though the severity is disputed.
These four million pounds of waste do serve some kind of purpose before hitting the landfill. Receipts are used to record business expenses for tax reasons and reimbursements but when it comes to the average consumer, physical receipts have no practical use.
The average consumer does not need or even want every receipt from their purchases. According to a panel of Underground Cafe employees, most people don’t want a printed receipt. Because of this, as well as the environmental factors, the local coffee shop does not print them automatically.
While all businesses need receipts for transactions, restaurants also require receipts to know how many and what type of purchase the consumer made in order to fulfill the order. However, these are not tossed at the end of the day.
“Yeah, we don’t throw those away, we need those for documentation for sure,” said one employee.
And with most transactions being carried out digitally via a credit or debit card, the option for a receipt is given to the customer.
A hindrance to the viability of physical receipts in the contemporary world is sustainability. Humanity is producing more garbage than ever before.
A World Bank report estimated that 3.5 million tons are churned out daily, which is expected to double by 2025 and projected to continue growing through 2100.
Physical receipts are another member of the pollution dogpile, with absolutely no sign of slowing down. Thermal receipts cannot be recycled in a professional or personal context so the BPA and BPS they contain ends up in the soil, leaking into groundwater and making its way into plants. Receipts cannot be used in compost piles, as BPA and BPS can find its way into fruits and vegetables grown in that soil, causing or exacerbating the previously stated health effects.
The American Chemical Society Journal of Environmental Science & Technology reported 94 percent of tested receipts contain BPA or BPS, some more than 1,000 times higher than that in BPA-laden plastic food containers and water bottles. The report continued to outline the environmental impact of receipts, finding 33.5 tons of BPA have spread to the environment in the U.S. and Canada.
“BPA is known to be hazardous to human, fish and other animal reproductive systems and has been linked with obesity and attention disorders,” the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency reported. “The other commonly used chemical for thermal receipts, BPA, has been shown to have some similar effects.”
BPA has been commonly used in all sorts of products and materials since the early 20th century, though a shift is beginning. Some products use “BPA-free” as a selling point and a handful of states have banned the use of BPA altogether. These bans largely target products that may affect an infant’s health, such as bottles and sippy cups, but some states have made the leap to ban it from any food and liquid containers.
In 2006, the largest receipt paper manufacturer, Appleton Papers, claimed to no longer use BPA in their formula. Though small, any steps taken to reduce the prevalence of the unrecyclable plastics is a step toward a safer and cleaner world.
The 6420 is a student publication at Rose State College.