How many times have you gone to the store to grab a quick item or two and walked out with a receipt that is longer than you are tall? Do you then dump it in the trash? Or fold it up (many, many times) and stick it in your pocket? Or throw it somewhere in your car to let it “biodegrade” with all the other stuff in there? Or take it home and stick it in with your other paper recyclables?
Whatever your method of dealing with receipts, you may like me recognize that a great many of them are really unnecessary. As such, I have often told the cashiers in various stores that I did not need a receipt, thinking that this might avoid the printout and so save some paper (not to mention the bother for me of figuring out what to do with the bloody thing).
Sadly, I have discovered that my efforts were mostly in vain. After giving my habitual “just say no” line in a local natural foods store, I watched as the register printed out the receipt anyway and the cashier crumpled it up and threw it in the trashcan.
“What, do you still have to print out the receipts?” I asked.
“Well that is pretty wasteful.”
She did not have much to offer in explanation or consolation.
Yet making receipts optional is entirely possible. I purchased something from another local green store, the Blue Ridge Eco-Shop in Charlottesville, Virginia, and again gave my “just say no” line. Lo and behold, nothing came out of the register. I asked about this and learned that the Eco-Shop’s register would not print out receipts if they were not wanted.
If we have the ability to opt out of getting receipts, then why not do so? This seems so simple and helpful for everyone: consumers avoid having to deal with receipts (sustainably or not), businesses avoid the expense of printing out unwanted receipts using supplies they have to pay for, and producers avoid having to supply so much paper (from trees, either directly or indirectly) for this purpose. And for those receipts that are printed, why not make them as short as possible rather than treating them as opportunities to advertise and publicize the company?
Of course, some receipts end up being helpful, even if you initially might not have wanted them. I have found myself digging through my recycling box countless times in order to find a discarded receipt so I could return a now-unwanted item. And no one would want to buy some big-ticket item, say a TV or computer, and not get a receipt. But still, by and large, most receipts are rather pointless. I mean, do we really need de facto receipts from fast-food restaurants???
If all it takes is tweaking the technology of cash registers, then I think businesses can and should do a bit of “rewiring” or “reprogramming” in order to help make the marketplace greener. And companies that make the cash registers can and should easily make machines with optional receipts the standard, not the exception. Barring the “just say no” standard, at a bare minimum receipts should be kept as short and simple as possible.
Hopefully one day, then, it will be a matter of us asking for receipts rather than getting them by default. Or at least we will be able to “just say no” to receipts and actually make a difference.