We are living in a bright new age in which sustainability and ethical practises are moving out of the sphere of abstract international treaties such as the Paris agreement, and into the day to day behaviour of consumers and the stores they buy from. Plastic bags have been banned in various countries across the world, and in France supermarkets face fines for food wastage. However, one persistent outdated practise remains in stores, cafes and gas stations all over the world: the use of paper receipts.
And it’s not as if we don’t know the damaging effects of continued use. Over the last few years, the issue has been highlighted not once but twice on primetime U.S. TV by Jimmy Kimmel and has also been featured on leading publications like the BBC, The New York Times, The Guardian and Huffington Post, which have all lamented the negative effects that paper receipts have on the shopping experience, the environment, and businesses expenditures.
And while some forward thinking leading retailers like Tesco, Apple and CVS are skipping the slips and evolving to digital receipts, the change is still slow. It is time for governments to take steps to ban this practise the same way they have outlawed other harmful practises. Here are three reasons why:
From storing digital airline tickets in Apple wallets, to receiving our utility and phone bills via email, the paperless movement is well on its way. And it’s not just because pieces of paper are frustratingly easy to lose, spill coffee on, or damage in our wallet or purse. It is instead because the paper industry is extremely damaging to the environment. While it is easy to argue that such as small piece of paper isn’t going to make much difference in the world, if you look at the effects of the global paper industry, the effects are shocking.
According to research from Green America Skip The Slip, in the United States alone, more than 12.4 million trees and 13 billion gallons of water are used each year in the production of paper receipts, creating 1.5 billion pounds of waste and 4 billion pounds of CO2.
But paper receipts are a problem not just because of the waste and destruction they cause, but also for the components that make them. Approximately 93% of paper receipts are coated with BPA — a chemical banned from plastic bottles — or BPS, which means that they should not be recycled. These chemicals are toxic, and according to recent studies could have harmful effects on humans who touch them. A study from the New York State Department of Health connects BPA to developmental, reproductive, and neurological problems, which puts workers, consumers, and people involved in collecting trash and recycling at risk.
One of the issues that riles Jimmy Kimmel most is the fact that the excessively long slips are filled with coupons, which consumers almost never use as they are hidden within meters of useless paper.
This is a perfect example of the redundancy of paper receipts. They are designed to serve a purpose, whether it be to act as proof of sale, to offer reductions for loyal customers, or to display the contact number of the store. But more often than not, instead of pushing sales and increasing brand loyalty, they are dropped into the trash.
The fact is that consumers WANT to use their receipts in the right way. They want to collect coupons and loyalty points. They want to be able to return goods if they break. They want to be able to claim for business expenses when they submit taxes. What they don’t want to do is collect shoe boxes full of paper receipts, or realise one year down the line that the ink has rubbed off the receipt they have so carefully stored, rendering it useless.
Furthermore, consumers across all age demographics are keen to manage their finances better, and a big part of this comes from taking more care with day to day costs. Assessing weekly expenditures from swathes of folded paper receipts is a time-consuming task which — if we are being honest — most of us forget to do, until the month before tax day when we end up having to pay an accountant to do it for us.
And it’s not as if consumers are resistant to change. According to recent studies, 90 percent of customers surveyed would prefer to receive digital receipts when shopping, and half of shoppers would purposefully frequent stores that used digital receipts. And with a range of money management apps available, which can be linked directly with payment systems, life would be so much easier for everyday consumers if paper slips just disappeared.
If damaging the planet and disadvantaging customers weren’t enough of a reason, if anyone is feeling the negative effect of the continued use of receipts, it is stores themselves. By law, in many parts of the world stores are required to offer consumers proof of their purchase, however doing so with paper is costing stores hundreds if not thousands of dollars each year. This is hitting SMBs particularly hard.
While the smallest stores are getting hit the hardest, the largest retailers like Tesco, Apple and CVS seem to be making serious moves towards digital receipts. But it’s not just out of the goodness of their hearts. These large retailers know that connecting with consumers digitally, either via sending them receipts online, by giving customers digital loyalty schemes, or unique customer identifiers via opt-in mobile apps, helps them connect better and push deals and discounts to nurture customer relationships and foster brand loyalty.
And more than that, a recent Forbes article shows that using apps can also help retailers understand a individual shopper’s browsing patterns both online and in-store, allowing them to hit them with the right deals at the right time.
So, with governments around the world taking steps to improve sustainability, reduce waste, support local businesses, make it easier for citizens to comply with tax laws and better manage their finances, there seems to be one small step we could take to make a huge difference to many different aspects of our lives.
Let’s join forces with Skip the Slip and Jimmy Kimmel, and pressure retailers to finally put an end to such a wasteful, outdated practise.
Sarthak is the founder and CEO of TillBilly: a forward-looking tech firm working on an innovative solution to bring tap and go (contactless) digital receipts to the retail with its payment terminal. This will allow merchants to easily integrate a digital receipts solution and offer shoppers easily accessible and user-friendly digital receipts without compromising shopper’s privacy or environmental sustainability.