Viva la Revolucion!

Receipt Revolution

I just returned from what I consider a pretty eco-friendly trip to Morrison’s. First of all, I walked, so there was no burning of fossil fuels. On the food front, free-range eggs from a local Wiltshire farm went directly into one of my own reusable egg cartons, so no new packaging there. Bread rolls likewise got added to one of my own bags so no single use plastic bags came home with me. And at the self-checkout, the machine asked if I wanted a receipt. Pressing NO meant my trip to the supermarket generated no new waste, and I walked home a very happy eco-bunny.

However, I’ve been noticing that this last step of the process—the receipt—is where things tend to fall down. While everything else is within my control—where to shop, how to get there, and the carrying of bags and reusable containers—it’s this little piece of paper that usually ends up coming home with me, only to immediately be added to the recycling bin (which is a problem when you actually need the receipt a few weeks later). Even if I am asked if I want a receipt, the asking is usually being done while the receipt is printing; a negative answer means the person at the till puts it in the bin right then and there.

Doesn’t this seem silly? I think it’s time for a receipt revolution.

My manifesto is simple:

  • Ask if the customer wants a receipt and only print it out if the answer is yes: Not only would this reduce paper waste, it would cut back on litter as many receipts tend to be chucked as soon as the customer leaves the shop.

  • Develop a secure, technical solution to provide receipts: Some larger shops have made the switch to emailed receipts, which is a step in the right direction. However, it seems like there is an opportunity out there for someone to develop a system that would allow either:
  1. Using near frequency communication to send the receipt immediately to an app on the customer’s phone; all receipts can then be collated so the user can see how much he or she is spending and where. This would aid in budgeting and allow the customer to access their receipts at any time, without having to scramble through a month’s worth of collected paper recycling (I might just have had some personal experience in this).

  2. Having the customer’s credit card or debit card linked so that transactions will trigger the receipt to be automatically sent to the same type of app.

Apps should have easy-to-use software counterparts so users have the flexibility of viewing their receipts and data on a laptop or desktop system. Receipts should be searchable and tag-able (e.g. so the user can add their own custom category if desired). All apps of this type must be accessible at all stores, i.e. no separate Morrison’s or Sainsbury’s or Tesco’s apps that can only be used for receipts at a specific grocery store.

I recognise that sorting out the technology on a nationwide basis is likely to be a bit more complex, especially considering data and privacy concerns. Although I would like to think that if we can put a person on the moon, producing safe and secure digital receipts should be a doddle! But the first step seems very straightforward: re-programme all tills not to automatically print a receipt. Job done.

It has been great to see the progress made on encouraging people to use less waste, from reusable coffee cups and water bottles to BYOB (bring your own bag). This is another small step that would have a large cumulative difference: imagine a system like this at each and every business across the country, from cafes, restaurants, and pubs to charity shops, hair salons, and, of course, supermarkets. All that remains is one question: who’s going to lead the charge? 

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