Less Waste with Paperless Receipts

Join the Human Impacts Institute Community Conversation! How else do you reduce waste when purchasing?

I recently visited Urban Outfitters in Union Square to buy a gift for my sister’s birthday and was pleasantly surprised when the cashier said something I never expected; she asked me if I had wanted my receipt mailed to me. At first I thought that I had heard her incorrectly but it turns out I had not; Urban Outfitters gave individuals the option of receiving a paper receipt or one sent straight to their inbox.

This was interesting to me because I had never heard of it, and I thought, why didn’t someone think of this sooner. Turns out Urban Outfitters is not the only store that has taken the initiative, nor are they the last; other companies are also adopting this policy.

On the 16th of May, 2008, Target and Best Buy launched their use of electronic receipts through the utilization of a service called allEtronic. AllEtronic is and add-on to cash registers that, according to cnet News, “recognizes a customer as a sale is rung up, [and] blocks the receipt-printing process”. The receipt is then sent to the customers account. However, in order to participate, allEtronic requires consumers to create an account with them, registering their credit cards. When a store utilizes this add-on, the program will then recognize the credit card and automatically send the receipt to allEtronic’s server. The receipt is then accessible through the website and can be downloaded to an individuals computer. allEtronic does not share the customer’s email address or information with third parties for advertising and the store, by signing a contract, is not allowed to spam the customer with coupons and ads.

This process alone, as reported by allEtronic to cnet, saves trees by saving 600,000 tons of receipt paper used by stores each year. This is supplemented by the fact that it takes approximately “15 trees, 19,000 gallons of water, and 390 gallons of oil to make a ton of paper”- that’s a lot of resources!

According to DoYourPart.com, other stores, such as Whole Foods, the Gap, Nordstrom, and Anthropologie have followed suit through email notification. In these stores email addresses are obtained at the point of purchase as opposed to the utilization of a card or registration with a company.

Other businesses that provide similar resources are Transaction Tree, which is a green company that incorporates eco-friendly practices into the consumer arena, and Receipt Bucket, a company that provides an RB card that can be swiped at the register of a participating store. The RB card will allow customers and retailers to store receipts digitally. They also offer a way to browse coupons online that, when the RB card is used, will apply the discount the coupon provides to the purchase.

Photo provided by Receipt Bucket (http://www.receiptbucket.com/tour2.php)

Some customers are not as enthusiastic as I am about electronic receipts, and rightfully so – by giving a store your email address you run the risk of getting spammed with tons of emails and promotions from the companies. Are these companies really interested in reducing their impact on the environment or is this just another ploy to reach us from other mediums? Regardless, how hard is it really to delete a few emails from your account? By reducing the amount of receipts printed we can reduce the amount of waste we produce and the amount of resources we consume; a reduction is necessary and this is one way retailers can participate in eco-friendly practices.

By Mugzy Undemir, 2011 Human Impacts Institute Climate and Coalition Building Intern

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