Going Paperless: The Hidden Cost of a Receipt

In this Friday, Nov. 23, 2012 photo, a cashier hands a customer his change and receipt during a transaction at a Sears store,
In this Friday, Nov. 23, 2012 photo, a cashier hands a customer his change and receipt during a transaction at a Sears store, in Henderson, Nev. Consumers spent and earned more in November, reflecting a rebound from the disruptions caused by Superstorm Sandy. The Commerce Department says, Friday, Dec. 21, 2012, consumer spending rose 0.4 percent compared with October. Personal income jumped 0.6 percent, the biggest gain in 11 months. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

The paper receipt: at best, a surefire way to bloat your wallet. At worst, a painful reminder of yet more money wasted at 2 a.m.

To keep financial data from falling into the wrong hands, receipts get shredded or even incinerated. And we all have receipts that are filed away, only to be forgotten forever.

No one seems to want paper receipts, and few people really need them, yet they are ubiquitous -- and even worse, unsustainable. Over 250 million gallons of oil, 10 million trees and 1 billion gallons of water are consumed each year in the creation of receipts for the United States alone, generating 1.5 billion pounds of waste. Here in the UK, more than 11 billion receipts are printed each year, each costing just under a cent to print.

All of this creates a costly problem for retailers, consumers, and above all else, our environment.

Ironically, the idea for a solution was born on the back of the very object that I aim to eradicate. Sitting in a campus café with friends, I found myself drawing illustrations on the only paper at hand: two sprawling receipts I received after purchasing a single cup of coffee. A name and concept dawned on me, and I wrote them down, then and there. Further discussions with my peers revealed that scrap paper-swelled pockets were a nuisance that nearly all of us experienced.

I am now tackling this problem head-on with my Clinton Global Initiative University Commitment to Action, Reseed, which aims to eradicate paper receipts on my university campus and in the wider community. Reseed removes the need for paper receipts and allows users to instead access the records online. In turn, the retailer donates the money that would otherwise go towards printing costs to a tree-planting charity.

As a final year undergraduate student at University College London, I am in early discussions with the university about implementing a trial run of my CGI U commitment at 14 campus venues, including cafes, shops, bars and sports facilities. Following this, Reseed will explore possibilities with external retailers.

Reseed's strategy is prevention and remediation -- not only can we curb deforestation by encouraging consumers and retailers to adopt e-receipts, but we can also reverse some of the damage with the money saved. Forgoing 55,000 receipts can spare an entire tree, and it only takes a dollar in donations for Reseed to plant a tree.

The benefits of cutting down on receipts extend beyond the environment and our wallets. Deforestation has been linked to ethnic, religious and political instability across the world. Thermal receipt paper also contains a harmful chemical, Bisphenol-A, which has been linked to various forms of cancer and instantly disqualifies receipt paper from recycling.

We have a huge challenge ahead in reaching a safer world, a more efficient economy and a more sustainable environment. That being said, creating positive change doesn't require a monumental societal shift. Small decisions about even smaller pieces of paper can go a long way.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the Clinton Global Initiative in recognition of the latter's CGI University meeting (April 5-7 at Washington University in St. Louis). CGI University gathers top students and youth organizations to create innovative solutions to some of the world's most pressing challenges. For more information, click here.