Receipts: Not for the recycle bin?

June 3, 2010

Over recent months, there has been some reporting of the dangers from BPA (bisphenol-A) in cash register receipts (for example, on EcoWomen and Science News). And last year, the focus was more on BPA in toilet paper. Without dismissing the importance of limiting BPA that can affect our bodies directly, I’d like to point toward the larger picture for the ecosystem.

BPA has been the material of choice for thermal and pressure paper, the most common examples of which are receipts and those triplicate forms. It also ends up in toilet paper – and there’s more of it in the “eco” toilet papers that have recycled paper content, due to concentration during the reuse process. BPA is an estrogen mimicker and can cause disruptions in the development of animals. We certainly want to limit its spread throughout the water supply and ecosystem.

It turns out that the toilet paper levels of BPA are in the parts per million. The real environmental challenge comes from receipts, which are coated with a layer of BPA-containing powder at the level of parts per hundred. When receipts are tossed into the recycle bin, this BPA contaminates the recycled paper waste stream. It may end up… yes, in your “eco” toilet paper, or any other product that contains post-consumer recycled content.

Odd as it sounds, it is safer for the environment to throw receipts in the trash. (Of course, there is still the issue of BPA at the landfill…)

Of course, in the bigger picture, we’ll want to move away from BPA-laced paper. Of the three major thermal paper makers in the US, Appleton Paper has chosen to go BPA-free. Unfortunately, we can’t know which of our receipts have BPA and which don’t. Perhaps Appleton would consider printing a logo on its paper as a near-term “solution”?

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