In the wild world of U.S. politics, it isn’t unusual for elected officials to use props to illustrate their points. As you might recall, Republican Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe brought a snowball onto the Senate floor to argue against the validity of global warming. But San Francisco Assemblyman Phil Ting might have just won the award for best political prop.
Earlier this month, while introducing a bill that would require California businesses to issue electronic receipts instead of paper ones (unless a customer specifically asks for a paper copy), Ting brought a dejected-looking adult man dressed up as a literal receipt onstage and made him stand there for the entire 20-minute announcement. (The cashier at CVS hands me a two-foot scroll every time I buy a roll of toilet paper, but God bless Ting for ensuring that none of us has to rely on that memory alone to conjure up the image of a freaking receipt.)
I promise you that whatever you’re imagining right now isn’t as good as the actual footage of this poor man standing in front of a crowd with his face sticking out of a receipt-hole:
Oh yeah, about the actual bill: California Assembly Bill 161 is aimed at reducing paper waste in the state, because unlike a lot of other types of paper, receipts aren’t recyclable. Champions of the bill point out receipts are often printed on thermal paper, which is coated with chemicals, often including bisphenol A (BPA), a known endocrine disruptor that can be transferred to the skin in small amounts and is linked to some kinds of cancers.
BPA can contaminate recycling, so putting receipts in your blue bin (or, you know, excessively licking your fingers after handling them) is probably a bad idea. And considering California has already passed bills banning single-use plastic grocery bags and straws, making receipts an opt-in paper product could seem like a logical next step. If Ting’s new receipt reducing bill passes, businesses will have to go electronic by 2022 and would be subject to a small fine if they fail to do so.
But is a receipt-ban really the best way to go about reducing our environmental impact?
In the weeks since Ting brought his man-receipt on stage, critics have argued that, much like California’s plastic straw ban, the new bill isn’t exactly a ground-breaking win the environment. First of all, some businesses have pivoted away from BPA-coated receipts in recent years anyway. But more importantly, there isn’t a ton of evidence that receipts pose a huge environmental burden in the first place.
“Even 314,000 tons of paper receipts amount to less than .08 percent of the more than 400 million tons of all paper products — receipts to cardboard — used globally on an annual basis,” wrote Adam Minter of Bloomberg News. He argues spending time and energy on banning something as small as receipts “diverts attention and effort from bigger and far more pressing waste and recycling issues that are negatively impacting the state right now.”