Lawmakers in New York City are considering a ban on paper receipts coated with the chemical BPA.
They’re also considering a requirement that retailers offer emailed receipts instead of paper ones.
The City Council recently announced that it will hold hearings on a package of bills aimed at cracking down on paper receipts.
“Nobody needs foot-long receipts,” said Council Speaker Corey Johnson, a Democrat. “We will work with businesses and consumers to cut out paper receipt waste and protect the planet. Let’s not print receipts when they aren’t wanted, especially when we have technology to issue environmentally friendly alternatives.”
Most cash register receipts are coated with bisphenol A, known as BPA, or the related chemical BPS. Some studies have determined the chemicals could harm the female reproductive system at high levels.
The City Council will consider bills in the next few months to restrict the use of BPA-coated paper, to require stores to offer e-receipts, to require that receipts be printed on recyclable paper and to require businesses to recycle receipts.
With all that in mind, we asked some questions.
How much of a health hazard is BPA, or BPS, as it comes off a paper receipt?
“I think there are probably a few points to be made here,” said Dr. Frank McGeorge, a health reporter and emergency room doctor. “First, the manufacturers of thermal receipt paper probably did not take into account the potential toxicity of their product. I think it was largely unknown at the time they were developing it. My point being, it is possible that they inadvertently created a product that would have some degree of toxicity.”
And is there any evidence that BPA on receipts leads to any increase in BPA in people? Is there any real worry about BPA entry through the skin?
“There is good evidence that the BPA on thermal receipts can be absorbed by the human body,” McGeorge said. “The amount of contact is the most relevant thing. Cashiers who handle these receipts regularly without gloves are probably at the highest risk. There is also the concern that as receipts grow longer, the ones with all the ‘free’ offers on them -- they will pose a hazard to environmental contamination. Consumers who handle the receipts probably do absorb some BPA.”
Finally, the most relevant concern: What amount of BPA is considered harmful?
“That answer is not clear,” McGeorge said. “It is not really clear to me from anyone’s data that the amount of BPA in a receipt produces a harmful effect. Of course, there is certainly the probability that we just don’t know everything about the potential harm yet and any amount might prove to be harmful, especially in certain sensitive individuals.”
What about the potential ban, then?
Is there anything people should consider, given this information, or lack of information?
McGeorge said he thinks a ban on receipts might be premature, given the current state of data.
“(But) on the other hand, I also think it would be smart for consumers to take simple precautions to limit their exposure,” he added. “They should not excessively handle receipts when not necessary. They should simply throw them away.”
He also recommended washing your hands after handling receipts in large numbers, for example, after doing an expense report.
But at this point, casual contact with receipts is probably not harmful enough for anyone to be concerned about.
“For me personally, this will not change any behaviors,” McGeorge said.
The environmental aspect
As for why New York is considering a ban in the first place, the doctor said it might be because of the volume of garbage the city produces. Emailing receipts or printing receipts on recyclable paper seems like a more sensible thing than creating landfills full of potentially chemical laden paper, he added.
“Ultimately, you also have to consider that if there is a ban placed on these BPA receipts, what will they be replaced with?” McGeorge said. “Would companies just find another chemical to make thermal receipts from that is equally or potentially more toxic?”
It seems there are lots of questions ....
And there aren’t a lot of answers just yet.
What do you say? Does the idea of an NYC ban make sense to you, or are you waiting to learn more?
The Associated Press contributed to this report.