Woolworths, Coles respond to 'toxic' receipt concerns

Woolworths has set the record straight after their receipts were previously made with a potentially harmful chemical that has been linked to a number of health issues, including cancer.

In a statement to Yahoo News Australia, a Woolworths spokesperson affirmed that Australia’s largest supermarket chain had stopped using Bisphenol A – otherwise known as BPA – for the past seven years.

“Our printed receipt paper is BPA free, and we’re continuing to review emerging phenol-free alternatives,” the spokesperson said, adding that an ever-growing number of Woolworths customers are choosing to do away with paper receipts altogether in favour of eReceipts via their Everyday Rewards program.

Two Kmart receipts are held in front of a christmas tree, while a man checks his receipt outside Woolwoths.
BPA, a chemical in thermal receipt paper previously used by Kmart and Woolworths, has been linked to an increase in prostate and breast cancers. Source: Supplied/Getty

“Every day, more than 7 million transactions across our stores use the eReceipt option, with individual customers saving an average of 13 metres of paper every year,” the spokesperson said.

The retailer however did not disclose whether their receipts were free of Bisphenol S (BPS), a closely -related, structurally and toxicologically-similar alternative to BPA.

Rival Coles, in a report, also confirmed that their receipts were BPA-free but were less clear about their use of phenol alternatives as well.

Yahoo News has reached out to Kmart for comments, but has not received a reply as of publication.


While considerable progress has been made in removing the potent endocrine-disrupting chemical BPA from food cans and reusable food and drink containers, receipts printed on thermal paper were treated with this substance.

Apart from till receipts, thermal paper is used globally for printed tickets, boarding passes, luggage tags, prescription bottle labels, lottery tickets and even packaged supermarket deli meats and cheeses.

BPA, which has been linked to an increased risk of breast and prostate cancers, cardiovascular disease and reproductive and brain development abnormalities, can be absorbed through the skin – a particular point of concern for cashiers who handle receipts frequently.

But while retailers turned to BPS as an alternative to BPA following pressures to remove the toxic chemical from the market, scientific evidence shows this should not be used as a substitute as these may pose similar health and environmental hazards, and is also easily transferred to skin.

Scientist have revealed that BPS disrupts hormones and harms reproductive, developmental, metabolic and cardiovascular health, just like its predecessor. It may also play a role in altering immune function or the development of certain cancers and asthma, preliminary research indicates.

Nearly everyone around the world is exposed to BPS, but while a lot of products say BPA-free, there is not a lot said about BPS.

Research investigating possible health impacts from BPS is minimal as the focus has mainly been on policymakers paying attention to BPA.

Supermarket giants Woolworths and Coles say their receipts are BPA-freee but are less clear about phenol-free alternatives. Credit: Ian Waldie/Getty Images
Supermarket giants Woolworths and Coles say their receipts are BPA-free but are less clear about phenol-free alternatives. Credit: Ian Waldie/Getty Images

Studies however have proven BPS mimics the biological activity of oestrogen, though it is less potent than BPA.

In 2015, the United States’ Environmental Protection Agency assessed an alternative chemical called Pergafast 201 as a low to moderate human health hazard. The down-side, however, is that it had high to very high environmental hazard.

Another option called Alpha Free was also named, but while it might have a preferable toxicological profile, it could create print that fades quickly.

The safety of potential alternatives still needs to be assessed as manufacturers develop new and safer materials.

How to keep safe

American non-profit organisation Environmental Working Group (EWG) says that as it may not be possible to completely avoid exposure to BPA and BPS, there are ways people can minimise contact with these harmful chemicals.

Taking advantage of e-receipts via mail to text is an alternative, but if this is not possible – customers are advised to store paper receipts separately in an envelope as BPA and BPS can contaminate currency and other items stores next to them.

Customers are also advised to keep thermal receipts away from children and to make sure to wash their hands after handling them.

Lotions, hand sanitisers and anything wet or greasy should also be avoided before touching receipts as the wetness or greasiness may increase the amount of chemicals transferred onto the skin and its capacity to absorb BPA or BPS.

It is also encouraged to put receipts and other thermal paper into general waste bins in order to not contaminate recyclable items.

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