Sunday, March 30, 2014

Going Green: Cutting Down Paper Receipts

By Jonathan Mallon

Anybody who has worked retail or banking knows about issuing paper receipts.  In general (mainly for retail), when a customer pays for an object with a credit card, two receipts come out; one for the store and one for the customer.  The customer then signs the store receipt for the store’s own record keeping, and the second receipt is for the customer’s own record keeping.  However, that same customer may throw out their copy as soon as they get it or ask not to get their copy, which the store may throw out as well. 

Just recently, a Ramapo College student named Samuel Arnowitz created a petition on to create a federal regulation that makes all types of agencies ask if the customer wants a copy of their receipt with their orders.  In my experience and my environmental awareness, I think this would be a great idea.

I work at a major chain movie theater, where for the first few years I just gave out receipts to people as long as the machine printed them out without fully realizing what people would do after they get it.  I didn’t think it was wasteful, as long as people had a copy they could keep for record keeping in case some an error occurred on their order, among other problems.  About a year ago, some machines were still printing two receipt copies, and some were only printing one for the theater’s own records.  I still worked pretty automatically, assuming the machines were just broken (which they may be, to an extent), until I overheard a friend of mine asking customers if they’d like a receipt copy.  She explained to me why she asked, though it was more for customer convenience than environmental conservation.  Still, I realized she was on to something, and I soon followed what she did.

According to an article by Will Hines on a blog in, there are many unsustainable elements that go into receipt production.  He explained that more than “250 million gallons of oil, 10 million trees, and 1 billion gallons of water are consumed each year in the creation of receipts for the United States alone,” creating a lot of waste.  Hines also said that the paper used for receipts, called thermal paper, contained the cancer-causing chemical BPA, which made receipt paper unrecyclable.

First off, the resources that go into receipt production could easily go to other things (which unfortunately might lead to other environmental issues), so cutting down the amount of paper receipts used would be a start.  Hines promoted an organization called Reseed to encourage the use of electronic receipts, albeit on a more local level before moving outward.  E-receipts, in theory, would be a better solution upon better technology and more widespread use.

Before that future is here, small steps will have to do.  A rule requiring a retail person asking a customer if they’d like a receipt is a small start in cutting down waste and resource use.  I wonder how it would be enforced if it’s enacted, and I feel it would bring up other legal issues as well.  However, it would save on resources and help decrease deforestation, however small the decrease may be.

While there is the issue of electronic devices being easier to get information from than a paper trail, I support this petition.

Find Arnowitz’s petition at:

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