Paper receipts are safe to use
Overall, paper receipts represent a very low risk to human health due to low quantities of chemicals present in the paper.
Thermal papers must also meet all country-specific legislation on chemical composition.
Thermal paper works by using heat (rather than ink) to activate a colour developer in the paper’s coating. BPA (Bisphenol A) was historically a common developer used in thermal paper. Concerns about the safety of BPA, considered an endocrine disruptor which may cause negative effects on human health, were widely reported by the media following environmental campaigns to eliminate paper receipts in favour of digital alternatives.
BPA is used in a very wide array of manufacturing, food packaging, toys, medical devices, personal care products and BPA resins are found in the lining of many canned foods and beverages. More BPA is produced annually than any other chemical and virtually everyone is continuously exposed to BPA.1,2
Most studies related to BPA are concerned with food consumption and drinking,3,4 as opposed to handling paper receipts. Simulated work situations that involved handling thermal paper receipts suggested that typical exposures can increase concentrations of BPA in human tissues after handling but all levels were well below that allowed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.5
Both the European Food Safety Authority and Health Canada consider the presence of BPA in paper receipts to pose no health risk to consumers of any age at current exposure levels.
– European Food Safety Authority, 2015 & Government of Canada. 2018.
Whilst exposure to BPA through thermal paper is extremely low, from 1st January 2020, new EU legislation will prohibit BPA being used in the production of thermal paper.6 In the U.S., producers do not use BPA in the manufacture of receipt paper and the majority of importers do not import paper using BPA coatings.7
Phenol-free thermal paper alternatives are available
Thermal papers are available which use phenolic-free colour developers, rather than traditional BPA or BPS coatings. There are also award-winning thermal papers available which can easily be used in any conventional thermal printer but, instead of a chemical reaction to heat, the emergence of text is purely a physical reaction. These innovative, chemical-free thermal papers are safe for direct food contact and can last for decades and still be readable.
- Gore et al., 2015. EDC-2: The Endocrine Society’s Second Scientific Statement on Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26544531
- Geens et al., 2012. A review of dietary and non-dietary exposure to Bisphenol-A. Food Chem. Toxicol. 50, 3725
- Mitragotri et al., 2011. Mathematical models of skin permeability: an overview. Int J Pharm. 418(1):115–29. Epub 2011/03/02. pmid:21356301
- Bernier and Vandenberg, 2017. Handling of thermal paper: Implications for dermal exposure to bisphenol A and its alternatives. PLoS One. Jun 1;12(6) :e0178449. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0178449
- Gore et al., 2015.EDC-2: The Endocrine Society’s Second Scientific Statement on Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26544531
- Commission Regulation (EU) 2016/2235 of 12 December 2016. https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=uriserv:OJ.L_.2016.337.01.0003.01.ENG&toc=OJ:L:2016:337:TOC
- Lynch, K., 2019. https://afandpa.org/our-products/searchresults?indexCatalogue=search&searchQuery=bpa&wordsMode=0
The facts booklet explores many key topics surrounding paper receipts and paper in general.
A comprehensive analysis of some of the key questions asked about paper receipts.