Paper and paperboard make up the vast majority of materials that converters use to manufacture their products—be it folding cartons, corrugated cases, flexible paper wrapping or a myriad paper-based end products. So, just when you thought it was safe to tout your materials’ positive attributes (easy recyclability, sustainability, natural unbleached condition), here comes something else to deal with: Toxicity via bisphenol A (BPA), specifically toxic cash-register receipt paper.
BPA has made headlines recently as scientists, health experts and consumers have been pressing for a federal ban on food packaging made with the reportedly endocrine-disruptive chemical. Said to act like a synthetic estrogen, BPA’s primary “Bad Guy” applications include beverage- and food-can lining, and also now, as an ingredient in the coating on thermal-printer receipt paper.
One of the group’s leading the charge against BPA is As You Sow, a San Francisco-based organization that promotes corporate responsibility through shareholder advocacy. For example, it had had a proposed proxy resolution in place asking Yum! Brands (owner of KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell) to reform its chemical policy. Yum!, fortunately, was nearly done with an official transition to non-BPA receipt paper at all its US restaurants, so the resolution was withdrawn last week.
According to As You Sow’s press release, a 2010 article in Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry, “Transfer of bisphenol A from thermal printer paper to the skin,” outlined that out of 13 thermal-printing papers analyzed, 11 contained BPA. When taking hold of a receipt, BPA was transferred to the forefinger and the middle finger if the skin was rather dry, and wet or greasy fingers absorbed about 10 times more.
“Most Americans are unaware that they are regularly exposed to BPA simply from holding cash-register receipts,” says As You Sow senior strategist Michael Passoff. “BPA transfers easily to our skin and then through our pores into the body. Many companies continue to ignore the current science around this toxic-chemical exposure, and consumers are unknowingly exposed to these toxic threats every day.”
My Thoughts: BPA and the detrimental effects of exposure to it have been in the news enough lately to make some dent in the average consumer’s consciousness. But now, for something as ubiquitous as cash-register receipt paper, it’s probably having its first real impact on paper-product makers and converters—as if anyone in the industry needs another negative issue to deal with.
Obviously, Yum! Brands will only be one of the first in a long line of customers to move away from BPA-content papers. How is your company responding? And more importantly, any alternatives you have to sell also need to be thoroughly tested so that, in the future, one problem is not substituted with another.