Tyler Talks Trash: All This Useless Paper

story by tyler weaver | photo by lucas hardisonLet’s take a second to ponder the lowly receipt. A slip of paper that proves you bought… a thing. Whether that thing’s as big as a building or as trifling as a pack of gum, you get one. That’s a lot of evidence floating around in pockets and purses and blowing in the breeze. Is it really necessary?

In Tyler’s waste-less wonderland, receipts wouldn’t be around all that much. Think for a second about the transactions you make every day. For how many of these do you really want a receipt? From the grocery store? The coffee shop? A restaurant? How many old ATM receipts do you have on you right now?

Some receipts have their purposes, such as those for things you reasonably may need to return or exchange: big-ticket items, things from home improvement or clothing stores where you might conceivably buy the wrong size. But I wonder how many people immediately throw their receipts away? And how many throw them away months later without ever having looked at them again?

We have computers that can do anything we can imagine; printing a receipt could easily be an option rather than the default. It’d be nice if more businesses gave you the alternative to decline a receipt or have it emailed.

If we can’t eliminate them (not that I’m conceding), they should, at the very least, be smaller. A disturbing trend I’m noticing is that receipts are getting longer and longer. I’ve kept a few of my receipts, and I’ve pulled a bunch from trash cans of various stores (that’s how I roll). The last few times I’ve had friends over, they’ve seen my pile of receipts and agreed that it’s unthinkable to get one as long as your belt for buying, say, soda and a candy bar.

The offending receipt is from a pharmacy: 19 inches of paper for two soft drinks and candy. The receipt happens to have a bit more information than you’d find on a standard sales slip since it was an EBT purchase (yup, for soda and candy, but that’s a column for someone else).

But let’s look at the remaining 70 percent: We’ve got info on “Wellness Points,” followed by two inches of blank space, a bar code, another inch of nothing and then, in the biggest font on the receipt (bigger than the store’s logo, even), is a sales pitch to enter a code online for a printable coupon. Then I’m thanked for using a “Wellness” card, informed that the store is a Medicare expert, and presented with a block of fine print about redeeming coupons (specifically, the many many things one cannot redeem a coupon for).  

No one is going to stop businesses from marketing; it’s in their nature. But when it comes to marketing on receipts, there are ways to do it more responsibly. I found a 10-inch grocery receipt for the purchase of one bag of corn. There’s just one marketing message on it—“Your nearest fuel rewards station is at…”—but it’s half blank. With a tighter layout, the store could probably cut 50 percent of its receipt paper budget.

Of course, now we’re back to the question of why anyone needs a receipt for a bag of corn anyways.