Sick of those long paper receipts? California lawmakers are weighing a bill to ban them

Nikki Boxer of Manhattan Beach, holding a receipt from CVS drugstore on Monday, says she would rather receive an electronic receipt by text message or email.
(Diya Chacko / Los Angeles Times)

Those glossy paper receipts that are often trashed before a shopper even leaves a store could become a relic of the past under a bill that cleared its first hurdle in the state Legislature on Monday.

Modeled after a new state law requiring that plastic straws be given in restaurants only upon request, the bill would require businesses to provide electronic receipts by default unless a customer asks for a paper one.

Assembly Bill 161 by Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) said his bill is an easy way to reduce paper waste in the state while addressing consumers’ frustrations with excessively long receipts. Customers have taken to social media for years to complain and poke fun at the size of their receipts, particularly at CVS drugstore, posting pictures of the coupon-packed printouts measuring taller than a refrigerator.


“If we are looking at reducing waste, probably the easiest thing we can do is get rid of the material that someone hands us that we don’t want that we hold onto until we get to the next trash can and then throw away,” said Nick Lapis of Californians Against Waste, a bill supporter.

Outside a CVS in Manhattan Beach on Monday, Nikki Boxer said her receipt was so long she considered taking a picture in disbelief and sending it to a friend. The drugstore company has said the receipts are far longer for those who are enrolled in their rewards program, which results in targeted coupons printed at the bottom of their list of purchases.

“Who holds on to paper receipts anymore?” asks Nikki Boxer with her CVS receipt.
(Diya Chacko / Los Angeles Times)

“I’d prefer if they texted it or sent it in an email,” Boxer said. “Who holds on to paper receipts anymore?”

The paper that receipts are printed on is generally too thin to be made from recycled material, according to a legislative analysis of the bill. Once they are thrown away, the Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery, or CalRecycle, said the use of chemicals on paper receipts makes them undesirable to recyclers.

The American Forest and Paper Assn., a paper industry group that opposes the bill, estimates that the United States generates 180,000 tons of paper receipts each year. That, the group points out, is a small percentage of total paper waste.

The bill would give businesses until 2022 to provide customers electronic receipts, or a paper printout available on request. Violators would receive two warnings before being levied a $25-per-day fine. The maximum annual fine would be $300. The bill exempts cash-only and smaller businesses with gross receipts under $1 million a year from the electronic receipt requirement.

The bill passed the Natural Resources Committee in a 6-3 vote on Monday, despite concerns from business groups, including the California Chamber of Commerce, California Grocers Assn. and California Restaurant Assn., that the switch should be driven by the market, not a government mandate. The bill next heads to the Assembly Privacy and Consumer Protection Committee.

The grocers association asked during Monday’s hearing to be exempt from the bill, arguing that receipts are particularly helpful for their stores as a way to verify that someone leaving with an item in their reusable bag actually purchased the product. Ting’s office said it is currently “looking into avenues to alleviate their concerns.”

Matt Sutton, a lobbyist with the California Restaurant Assn., said the mandate would cost eateries about $35,000 if they do not have a point-of-sale system that can handle electronic receipts. Sutton said there are logistical issues with asking a fast-pace restaurant to obtain email and cellphone information in order to complete an electronic receipt.

“It may seem like these electronic receipts are super commonplace and there is no question that some restaurants use them and some businesses use them, but they are not widespread and it doesn’t change with a flip of a switch,” Sutton said.

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