Does My Ice Cream Really Need to Kill Trees?

Becky and I went out the other night for ice cream. We got our cones, paid the lady, and then were handed our receipt. It was roughly 37 miles (59.5 km) long*. Sure, we like ice cream, but we didn’t order a cone for everyone on earth, nor did we ask to have our cones itemized by the molecule. That was a receipt for two cones.

Why did the cones come with enough paper to choke a mule**? Well, for one thing, there of course needed to be information and instructions on taking a quality survey. There’s a lot of that going around lately. Without the survey, the receipt was still pretty long. But the main question is, why did we need a receipt in the first place?

Mitch Hedburg has something to say about this:

Some places are kind enough to ask, “Do you want your receipt?” but if you say no, all they do is throw it away for you. It still prints out. We still wasted the resources on something that was immediately thrown away.

The record-holder on long-ass receipts is still Circuit City. You could hand-write War and Peace on the back of a receipt for a CD spindle. Buy two spindles and you can do it in morse code. I understand that with electronic equipment you need a receipt in case the thing is defective but how long does it really need to be?

And couldn’t we have a sort of agreement that if we’re paying cash for something and it’s less than ten bucks, we don’t need to document it? Especially if it’s something that will be poo or wee in a few hours?


* – A little over 651 football fields.

** – Thanks, Mom!

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One Response to Does My Ice Cream Really Need to Kill Trees?

  1. Dave-

    Small-time retailer Jim C here with the Straight Dope.

    There’s three main reasons you get a receipt with purchases like this:

    1) Most cash registers and/or Point of Sale systems are set up to automatically print receipts with every purchase. Some software MIGHT allow you to only print them over a certain amount, but we’ve got a pretty good system and ours doesn’t have it.

    2) Most states have consumer protection laws that require documentation of your purchase should you request it, and some probably don’t even require you to request it. It’s a lot easier for merchants to simply issue a receipt with every purchase than ask any individual if they want it or not, especially in a high-volume, high-turnover situation like a busy ice cream parlor.

    3) Finally, there’s ‘loss prevention’. Receipts indicate that the purchase went through the register, and there’s a record of the transaction for the store to follow up on for whatever reason they may need to. They protect both the customer (“I just bought this cone and there was a fingernail in it!”) AND the store. In fact, if you’re ever in a situation where you DON’T get offered a receipt, and the clerk tells you they need ot hand-write it, you may well be witnessing someone skimming the till, and it’d be a very grateful store manager you’d drop a note to about that. : )

    So that ought to hopefully help explain why you get that receipt, even for (or especially for) a single donut. The GOOD news is that the new thermal paper means that fewer and fewer businesses are blowing out those probably-toxic (and certainly wasteful) ink ribbon cartridges any more, so there’s an upside to tech, I guess. I honestly don’t know whether any of the paper is recycled, but receipt paper would seem an ideal place for that kind of thing, and we certainly make an effort to RECYCLE the receipts people don’t want, as opposed to just landfilling them.

    Why the receipt needs to be as long as your arm can only be answered by the fine folks at Friendly’s (just a guess…) HQ. We print our store info and web site on ours, and that seems to do the trick.

    (Remember when all this automation was going to create the ‘paperless office’?)

    -Jim C.