Heather McFarlane of environmental charity Fidra (www.fidra.org.uk) explores the hidden costs of receipts and the chemicals retailers are handing you every time you shop.
Whether it is Black Friday, Christmas shopping or refreshing your winter wardrobe, at this time of year everybody seems to be heading to the shops and racking up receipts. But are we picking up more than we bargained for at the checkout?
The toxic chemicals that can come with your shopping
At Fidra we have been examining the chemical pollutants in everyday items and top of our list of concern are the bisphenols used in till receipts. This group of problem chemicals can interfere with your hormones and harm wildlife. The EU classifies the most common bisphenol, BPA, as an endocrine disrupting chemical and as toxic to reproduction. And we know that almost everyone ever tested for bisphenols has them in their body.
We come into contact with the bisphenols via many different routes, as they are an ingredient in many plastics, food can linings and the thermal paper used for many tickets and receipts. However, there is some good news. Because of the risks the chemical poses to the unborn babies of pregnant shop workers, the EU is banning the use of BPA in receipts in 2020.
A bisphenol ban, but are we any safer?
While we welcome the legislation, it doesn’t go far enough. The problems with bisphenols have been well documented by CHEM Trust’s excellent 2018 report, ‘From BPA to BPZ: a toxic soup?’ which highlights the need for better regulation to limit exposure to the whole group of bisphenols.
As the report warns, regrettable substitution occurs when one harmful chemical is banned, but then simply replaced by another which shares similar chemical properties.
Worryingly many of the alternatives to BPA in till receipts are other bisphenols, some of which are even more persistent than the BPA it is replacing, meaning they may cause more damage for longer as it builds up in theenvironment and people. The more we find out about bisphenols the more hazardous this whole group of chemicals appear.
And unsurprisingly with a ban on BPA in till receipts on the horizon the EU have found the use of another bisphenol, BPS, is now on the rise.
What’s happening in the UK?
At Fidra we’ve been contacting major UK retailers, including supermarkets and department stores, to find out what is on their receipts and how they plan to protect the health of their staff, customers and the environment. We’ve been presenting the evidence on bisphenols to them and highlighting the alternatives available, with some interesting results.
About two thirds of the those we spoke have now indicated that they will use bisphenol-free receipts once the ban on BPA is introduced in January 2020. Some are still considering their options. But there are still some high street names that plan to switch from one bisphenol to another. You can check out the results in our table on our webpage and find out which retailers are leading the change to protect us, and our environment, from further chemical pollution.
Reducing the risks from receipts
Whilst it is good news to see some retailers moving away from bisphenols, we want to see all retailers using bisphenol-free receipts, as well as offering no receipt and digital receipt at their checkouts where possible. With the case against bisphenols building we need to be cautious and prevent further harm by banning all bisphenols in receipts not just one of them.
Whether it is reducing packaging, carbon emissions or receipts, many shoppers want retailers to be doing more to address environmental concerns. Making sure receipts are bisphenol-free is an easy way for retailers to give their customers what they want and reduce their impact. As we look carefully at the environmental costs of our purchases, shoppers won’t thank retailers for an unwanted receipt that comes at a price to human health and the environment.
- To find out more about what is in your shop and what you can do visit https://www.fidra.org.uk/projects/bisphenols/
Dr Anna Watson, Head of Advocacy at CHEM Trust said:
“CHEM Trust warmly welcomes the work carried out by FIDRA to alert retailers to the health and environmental issues of bisphenols in till receipts and how retailers can move to safer alternatives.
Many of the bisphenols are known endocrine disruptors that impact on development and reproduction. We need to be restricting them as a group to fully protect our children’s development, ourselves and the wider environment.”