Receipts vs. e-Receipts

We all know what a receipt is but maybe you’re wondering “what is an e-receipt?”. An e-receipt is an electronic receipt that acts as a digital substitute to a paper receipt. E-receipts are a burgeoning practice in retail and hospitality today, however they remain quite underdeveloped and underutilised in the marketplace. We’re told that digital is better than physical so why aren’t they taking off?

The origin of receipts can be traced back to a man named Alulu. Alulu lived in Samaria about 3200 BCE and at one point decided to buy ‘five sheep, one lamb and four grass-fed male kids’. How do we know about the details of this expense? Because Alulu kept his receipts.

Alulu’s receipt would have looked a little different to the one you’d get from Penney’s today, his being ‘a piece of clay about one inch by one inch and a half inch thick’ and yours being thermal paper, composed of synthetic compounds that Alulu would never even have encountered.

Fast-forward to the 21st Century and paper receipts are ubiquitous across all transaction types. From hotel stays and restaurants dine-outs to bus and train tickets, receipts are the go-to solution for proof of expense.

The Impact

In recent years, with public focus shifting to climate change and communities becoming more conscious of their CO2 footprint, paper receipts seem to slip under the radar of scrutiny. Why? Perhaps because they’re seen as inevitable or a part of a system too complex to change. So, in this blog we want to put paper receipts in the hot seat for a moment.

According to the US ‘emits 4 billion pounds of CO2 each year’. This equates to about 1.8 billion kilograms of CO2 each year for the US alone. In Sweden, as per research carried out by Isabel Sarenmalm from Uppsala Universitet, ‘60,000 trees are used annually for 1.5 billion paper receipts’. From this we can derive that 16,500 receipts are produced from a single tree in Sweden. Scaling this value up for the US, where up to 10 million trees are chopped per year to produce paper receipts, we can estimate there being over 165 billion paper receipts in circulation every single year in the US alone. Every single year.

Breaking down those numbers even further, we find the average contribution of a paper receipt to be 10g of CO2 into the atmosphere. This was calculated using our above US values but the properties of a paper receipt are relatively universal whether in Ireland, Sweden or the United States so 10g of CO2 can be taken as the standard effect.

So where does Receipt Relay stand?

The average emailed e-receipt has a carbon footprint of 4g of CO2 emissions. This is a major improvement on the paper based standard but we can do better. A Receipt Relay e-receipt has a CO2 emission of around 3g, over 3 times less than a paper based receipt and less than half of the emailed alternative.

But it gets even better. Receipt Relay operates on carbon neutral servers so even though our e-receipts have a footprint at an individual basis, over the course of a year our net contribution is zero.

It can't possibly get any better, right? Of course it can. Receipt Relay is free to use and is available on the Appstore or Playstore. Sustainability is about making small changes that have big impact and it only takes 60 seconds to create a Receipt Relay account so if you're looking to make a start, start there!