This article was originally posted in the Teton Valley News on December 4th, 2014. It is reposted with permission.
Shopping season is officially underway in Teton Valley as locals and visitors alike rummage for holiday presents, food to feed extended family, and winter sports gear. All this shopping adds up to increased waste, about 25% more than usual according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
To counter waste this holiday season, TVCR is hosting a free, self-serve gift wrapping station at the Chamber of Commerce from 11am to 3 pm on weekdays. Drop off extra gift boxes, paper, and bubble wrap, or reuse the materials dropped off by others to cut down on holiday waste. TVCR also offers low waste holiday tips, eco-wrapping ideas, and holiday waste recycling information on our website and blog at tetonrecycling.org.
The best holiday advice I can offer this year, however, relates not to waste reduction but to toxin reduction. For me, holiday shopping usually involves stopping by an ATM, sampling hand lotions and creams, eating home-made treats, and handling lots of receipts. The problem with this routine is that many receipts contain an endocrine-disrupting chemical, Bisphenal-A (BPA). BPA was originally created as an artificial estrogen supplement. Now it is manufactured as a print developer that is used in store and restaurant receipts, airline tickets, and ATM receipts. It is still an artificial hormone, and has been linked to reproductive defects and cancer.
Even more troubling is the effect of combining hand lotions and BPA. A recent study from the University of Missouri shows that using skin care products, such as lotions and hand sanitizers, dramatically increases the absorption rate of BPA. In addition to being absorbed through the skin, BPA was ingested when study subjects ate finger foods like French fries after touching thermal receipts. My holiday shopping tradition, it turns out, is akin to taking a ski shot of artificial hormones.
How can one enjoy holiday shopping with a harmful chemical lurking in something as ubiquitous as a receipt? Refuse receipts at the ATM, gas station, and at stores and restaurants when possible. Ask stores you frequent to switch to non-thermal receipts, or to use electronic receipts that they can email to you. If you need to keep a receipt for a return or for accounting purposes, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water (not hand sanitizer) before handling food. Keep all your receipts in an isolated location so the BPA doesn’t rub off on other items in your wallet.
Most importantly, when you dispose of thermal receipts, don’t recycle them! While the receipts are made of paper, recycling them will keep a harmful chemical in circulation as it is made into new products.
Finally, don’t sweat the small stuff. Receipts are unlikely to lead to your demise. However, avoiding hand sanitizer and lotions and washing your hands frequently could reduce the amount of BPA your body absorbs, and that will make a safer, merrier holiday for everyone.
Sources: University of Missouri, published in futurity.org, Touch a receipt and you’ll absorb BPA.
Tanya Anderson is the executive director of Teton Valley Community Recycling. For more information, visit tetonrecycling.org.