Digital Receipts vs Paper Receipts: Environmental Considerations

The late, great American comedian Mitch Hedberg had a joke about receipts:
“I bought a doughnut and they gave me a receipt for the doughnut... I don't need a receipt for the doughnut. I give you money and you give me the doughnut, end of transaction. We don't need to bring ink and paper into this.”

The sentiment of this joke is now shared by German business owners — and their customers. Thanks to the introduction of a new law requiring businesses to issue receipts to customers, no matter how small the transaction, many German citizens are increasingly concerned about the obvious waste of paper. This “cash register law”, has already affected bakeries, cafes, restaurants and hairdressers across the country. The measure was launched to prevent the manipulation of digital records, increase transparency, and counter tax fraud. Instead, it has shown a light on a significant environmental issue. So, why do we still use paper receipts? What is the impact on the environment? And could switching to e-receipts be the answer? Let’s find out.

Why do we still use paper receipts?

For both parties, a receipt acts as proof of purchase. The consumer needs it to ensure they’ve been charged correctly, or to request and facilitate a refund. The business owner, meanwhile, needs it for their records, or, in the case of larger sales, to protect against chargeback disputes.

But why paper? This is undoubtedly a throwback to older times, but some people so prefer the permanence of a physical receipt. They want to hold it in their hands and examine it for mistakes, before filing it away for tax purposes – or in case they want to return their purchase.

Yet, there is reason to believe this is changing. There is now a growing view that paper receipts are outdated and inconvenient – and even unhealthy...

• The thermal receipt paper can sometimes be damaged when exposed to heat, causing the ink to fade. The paper itself may also be coated with the harmful chemicals, bisphenol A (BPA) and bisphenol B (BPS), which can be absorbed into our bodies.

• Paper receipts are susceptible to being ripped and lost. A survey by Green America found that over one-quarter of respondents threw away or lost almost all of the paper receipts they were given.

• From a business point of view, there’s the upfront cost of setting up and the ongoing costs for storage and supplies.

And what about the environmental impact of paper receipts?

According to The Huffington Post, for one year in the US alone it takes the following to manufacture paper receipts:

• 10 million trees;
• 250 million gallons of oil;
• and 1 billion gallons of water.

Often, these receipts are printed whether the customer wants it or not, with many being discarded straight away. This leads to a staggering 1.5 billion pounds of waste being generated each year.

But perhaps the most concerning fact of all is that printed receipts cannot be recycled. Because the thermal paper receipts are coated in the harmful substances mentioned earlier, they are difficult to separate and could contaminate other paper materials heading for recycling.

So, what’s the answer? Digital beats paper

To counter the cost, both financial and environmental, of paper receipts, businesses should offer their customers the choice between digital and paper — or maybe do away with paper receipts altogether. And this is something consumers actively want to see happen.

The Green America survey discovered that 9 out of 10 consumers want an e-receipt as an option. Of those polled, 42% of millennials (25-34) and 55% of older millennials and younger members of Gen X (35-44) have already signed up for digital receipts.

The two most significant factors given by respondents for this demand for electronic receipts were 1) convenience and 2) the environment. Sixty-nine percent of those surveyed said they preferred digital to paper because they’re easier to store, while 70% said their preference for digital was in part because they’re better for the environment.

Meanwhile, from a business perspective, you not only get to position yourself as green and sustainable by implementing e-receipts, but you also save on the costs associated with paper receipts.

Key takeaways

There is a growing demand among consumers for, at the very least, the option of choosing a digital receipt over a paper one. And with the proliferation of cloud payment solutions, it’s now more accessible than ever for SMEs to switch and meet these expectations.

CCV currently enables e-receipts from many of our card terminal solutions, and we’re introducing new solutions that allow for digital signatures – thereby further reducing paper usage and wastage.

When it comes to payments, Mitch was right: we really don’t need to bring ink and paper into this. To find out more about our payment solutions, please contact CCV.