Which Retailer has the best and greenest receipts? We pick a winner and loser

POS receipts www.pointofsale.com

Receipts are everywhere you go. Millions of miles of thermal paper a year are used to print out a receipt for everything from a cup of coffee, to the purchase of a car or home. Yet, many receipts waste over 50% of the paper, with huge blank spaces and big borders.  Why can one company create a receipt for 4 items and use just 10 square inches of paper, while another company needs over 30 square inches of paper for a receipt with just one item?  Receipts tend to have a life that is measured  in split seconds. For example, my coffee receipts go directly into the garbage when I head over to the condiments counter to make my coffee – giving them a life span of under 15 seconds. Is a receipt really necessary?  I happen to belong to the Panera club, and generally have my membership card out for the cashier to scan. At the time of the transaction, Panera knows who I am, AND has my email address. Why couldn’t they just email me my receipt instead of wasting 26 square inches of receipt paper?
Ditto for most other transactions. If I am using a credit card, why couldn’t the store just have the invoice emailed to me?  The credit card company has my email address on file too.

Printing receipts is a process that seems more than a little wasteful, and not ecologically sound. The production of thermal receipt paper can involve chemicals that are not eco-friendly, such as BPA (Bisphenol A) (1).     Thermal paper was used in virtually every retailer we visited.

Over the course of the last 3 months, we started saving receipts to measure which retailers were greenest. The results are below.
I think for most companies, printing receipts is just a bad habit that they haven’t tried to break. Some stores insist customers get a receipt so that they know the transaction has been completed and the cashier is not pocketing the sale. Okay, I get that, but with all the other technology floating around, isn’t there another way to approach it? Perhaps like flashing a code on the register display for 2 seconds?   By the same token, some companies are paranoid about receipts not being left on the counter, because a sales clerk could use it for another transaction. So there’s a whole lot of mystery and intrigue and probably misconception associated with receipts.  I say,  print a receipt ONLY if you must and even then, make it small!!

Below, the companies are ranked from worst to best, with the approximate number of square inches of receipt paper to produce a simple receipt selling just one or two items:

Worst receipt practices – Applebees and Target.    Applebees (shown as the large receipt in the picture above)  produced a take out receipt using 32.81 square inches of paper – 3.125 inches wide, by 10.5 inches long, for just ONE item.  There were lots of blank spaces in the receipt, and there is a lot of room for Applebees to save money and trees.   Target receipts were judged the second worst, and often include coupons. A receipt that is two feet long is not uncommon. The coupons always seem to be for products I don’t normally use, as they are from competing companies. If I buy tissue paper A, I am likely to get a coupon for tissue paper brand B. I guess Target sells the ad space to various competitors. Does it work? I don’t know, I never use the coupons. I tend to stick with the brands I am comfortable with.  To be fair, I should mention that some Target receipts ARE smaller.  Not as small as WalMart though.

Rankings – from worst to best:

32.81 Sq in.   Applebees – one item, at the drive up/take out

29.3 sq in.  Target – one item, plus an invitation to a get survey, and something about a sweepstakes, printed twice, in 2 languages.  Coupons would have made this receipt even more wasteful.

28.9 sq in.  Michaels  – arts and crafts store – 1 item, has a return barcode, memos to sign up at Facebook and the like, customer policies (which are replicated on the back of the receipt anyway).

28.9 sq in  Bed Bath and Beyond – this receipt had 4 items and a merchandise return, so I cut them a little slack. Still it looks like there is easily room for a 30% reduction in the use of paper.

26.56 sq in Panera Bread – one of my favorite cafes, but really, this receipt is wasteful.  Large empty spaces at the top and bottom indicate potential for savings.   See my note below on tips for eliminating large blank spaces,  EVEN if your receipt printer needs to advance a lot of paper to get the last line to the tear bar.

21.875 sq in  HMSHost at Tampa Airport – just two items on this receipt and about three inches of wasted space.

19.14 sq in – Detwilers Farm Market – local to Sarasota – three items on the invoice, and some room for improvement.

18.75 sq in  Pei Wei Asian Restaurant – great food, lousy invoice.  Could easily be reduced in size and paper use by 40%.

16.77 sq in Publix Supermarkets – Pretty good job.

10.55 sq in  WalMart – three items on the invoice and the second smallest receipt.  Nice!

10.15 sq in Subway – four items on the invoice – and the winner!  Outstanding job!!   Shown in the picture above as the small invoice.

Honorable mention – Best individual store receipt – from the local yoga studio: Garden of the Heart – where they don’t print a receipt (unless you need to sign a credit card charge slip) – but instead they email a receipt to you! Now that’s smart and green!

A trick to use less receipt paper:

A certain major lunch vendor uses a well known major brand of printers for their receipts, and, as I am a regular customer, I see the receipts every single week, they often have HUGE blank headers and footers. About an inch and a half of nothing at the top AND bottom of the invoice.

Finally I asked the manager about that and he showed me the printer and explained it had a large distance between where it stopped printing and and the point where the paper had to be pushed so it could be torn against the cutter (or tear bar). It was a busy time in the store, so I didn’t push the matter. A couple days later it dawned on me that there was a trick we used to use to solve that, back in the 1980s when I was writing POS software. Here’s the trick. You put the header of the next invoice at the end of the current one, and then push the paper up to the tear bar. This way, you don’t waste the space on top or on the bottom of the invoice.    (In other words, as you are printing the current receipt, you start with the items sold, and then put the header on the bottom, where it comes out as the top of the next receipt, and, voila, you save about 30% of your paper costs.   Try it.  If it works for you, do us a favor – link to this page, and then Tweet the article or post it on FB or other services – in other words – spread the word.  Thanks.

Now, in all fairness to the vendors who were unknowingly selected, let me point out that many of them are franchised operations and the franchisees may be the ones in control of the invoice formats. Either way, I hope that you, the reader,  will point out to any store you visit any wasted paper that you see.

Let’s all help keep our country green, and lean, by keeping our receipts small, and if possible, emailed to us.



About the Author

Editorial Team

PointOfSale.com is a leading industry news site for the point of sale and payments industry.We are also the go-to resource for small business owners that want expert tips and inspiration on how to run a successful business. Collectively, our team of experts has decades of POS, payments, and small business experience.