Make Receipts Optional to Save Paper

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.

Image credit: Jnestorius at Wikimedia Commons.

  1. Bellen

    When we left CT 5 years ago, receipts were required BY STATE LAW. As a store owner and a consumer, I found it a terrible waste of paper & ink.

  2. Concetta

    I’m with you all the way! I hate having all the receipts around, when I manage my account online anyway.

    And the fast food receipts are the worst. A lot of the time now you get two of them – one for the order and one for the debit card! Argh!

    This one is right up there with the convenience store clerks trying to push a bag on me when all I’m buying is a can of soda and a bag of chips.

    Receipts are very, very often unnecessary. I love that many ATMS and gas pumps ask if you want a receipt instead of automatically printing one like a few years ago.

  3. Micah

    I use to own and operate a 7-11 and we required printed receipts. Mostly this was because it allowed us to see from the cameras if a transaction was actually processed through the POS or if the clerk was pocketing the money. If there was no receipt then the clerk was pretending to enter the order and then hit the open register button and made appropriate change for the customer and removed the remaining money later in the shift. Though still very wasteful, it is useful in some cases.

  4. Justin Van Kleeck

    Interesting insights, Bellen and Micah. I definitely agree that receipts can be useful in many cases and sometimes might need to be required for one reason or another. By and large, though, as I think all of you agree, they are really pointless instances of paper waste.

  5. Bobby B.

    Please visit tappi.org’s Paper University website and follow the “All About Paper” and “EarthAnswers” hyperlinks. You might gain a better understanding of and appreciation for the business. Also, I highly recommend that everyone tour a paper mill at least once in their lifetime. I worked in one for two years and they are amazing. Paper makers recognized the need for sustainability in its business model years ago and probably do more than most people to expand forested acreage.

  6. Justin Van Kleeck

    Wow, tbartels, that is so cool! E-mail receipts would be a great way to provide receipts without paper. Of course, that introduces personal privacy issues…you know, harvesting that info for SPAM, etc.

  7. Jennifer Kaplan

    I work with a number of small retailers. I always ask if they have the capability to not print receipts if they want. What I have found is that, generally, older systems do not provide the option to not print receipts. For retailers with existing systems, the best advice I can give them is to make it a requirement whenever they upgrade in the future. Sad but true.

  8. Richard Yeager-Stiver

    Blame the IRS, or thank the IRS, for receipts. As a Minister I have to keep EVERY receipt to prove my expenses and income if audited. The IRS wants to know where I got the money and where I spent the money. I have tons of receipts that I have to file in a file folder and then keep in the garage for no less than five years. But, my wife and I got used to it, though I have wondered, for folks who never deduct State Tax from their income, do they really need a receipt?
    Be great to have an option, as long as they assume you need the receipt.

  9. matthew mcdonald

    I thought it would be great if someone would make it possible to tie an email account to your credit cards. when you swiped them, the machine could detect if you had an email account tied to your credit card. it would email a copy to you.

    if you don’t have the email option set up, it would just print a receipt.

    simple enough i figure.

  10. Eco Girl

    The state requires you to hold on to signed credit card transations as a retailer, but not as a consumer. Many retailers do use POS computer systems that can email receipts just as easily as printing them out. Our policy is to ask and not print whenever possible. I email many for folks who like to have record. No need for a paper trail!

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