The Consumers’ Foundation on Monday urged the government to explore alternatives to thermal paper for receipts, which are produced using chemicals that are harmful to the body and make the receipts non-recyclable.
After the government began limiting the use of the compound bisphenol A (BPA), many companies that produce receipt paper substituted it with a structurally similar compound, bisphenol S (BPS).
The issue must not go unheeded by the government, as BPS is known to affect the female reproductive system by disrupting endocrine function and reducing estrogen levels.
In tests conducted by US-based non-profit organization the Environmental Working Group, it was found that cashiers have 30 percent more BPS in their bodies than the average person, making them a particularly high-risk group for reproductive issues.
Tests by the Consumers’ Foundation found that receipts in Taiwan often contain more than 3,000ppm of BPS, well in excess of the 10ppm that is considered acceptable.
The issue is of particular concern in Taiwan because, unlike the US, England and other countries where card payments are common and where people often say “no” to receipts, Taiwan is still a predominantly cash-driven society.
Also, more people in Taiwan take their receipts than consumers elsewhere do, due to the government’s Uniform Invoice Lottery, which incentivizes the behavior to prevent businesses dodging taxes. That means the average Taiwanese not only handles receipts more in the course of an average day, but will handle them again when the government announces the winning numbers. To exacerbate the matter, thermal paper is used to facilitate lining up at post offices, government offices and clinics, and it is used to print admission tickets at some public gyms.
Aside from their effects on health, receipts also have an environmental impact. A report from the Web site Metro published in April on the oil and water needed to produce thermal paper receipts in the UK said that “around 2.5kg [carbon dioxide-equivalent per kilograms] of receipts is generated in carbon emissions — the equivalent of around 21km driven in a car.”
Part of the problem is that thermal paper receipts cannot be recycled, as attempting to do so would release BPA and BPS into the air. They also cannot be composted, as that would contaminate groundwater.
Consumers need receipts, so many countries have been exploring options to replace thermal paper with other options. The most obvious answer would be digital receipts, but the challenge to implementation is a card-payment penetration that remains relatively low — about 30 percent of transactions in Taiwan. Cashiers could also offer to e-mail or text receipts, but the barrier would be reluctance on the part of consumers to hand over personal data.
The Ministry of Economic Affairs could encourage higher adoption of payment cards by subsidizing point-of-sale equipment and transaction costs for retailers, as well as providing free cards to consumers, who currently pay a non-refundable NT$100 deposit for such cards. Another option might be to offer “receipt cards” on which consumers could store receipts digitally, even if they pay with cash. Reusable plastic cards could be provided by the ministry free of charge, with the option of using a smartphone app instead.
The attention that has been focused on disposable plastic straws is good, but thermal paper is just as ubiquitous and must be given more attention because of the harm it can do. In Taiwan, where the effects of a declining birthrate are already being felt, the government must ensure that everyday items like receipts will not be a further hindrance.
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