S.F. Library's Simple, Smart Move Could Save Miles of Paper

Categories: Environment
Thanks to the San Francisco Public Library, receipts like this may be a thing of the past
When it comes down to a choice between actually helping the environment and having folks gape in wonder at the "futuristic," "21st-century," "next-generation" solutions proposed to help the environment, it's depressing how many people and organizations opt for the latter.

We've written in this space many times about how the greenest thing this city could do would be to foster a functional public transportation system that induces even the relatively well-off to get out of their cars. "Fix the bus system," however, is not a sexy suggestion -- not nearly as sexy as far-flung notions of electric cars, wave-generation plants, or other Jetsons-like possibilities currently being bandied about on the gubernatorial campaign trail.

So it was more than reassuring to see that a simple, un-sexy, no-brainer move recently made by the San Francisco Public Library could reduce stunning amounts of waste. Actually, it was a thrill: The library recently made receipts optional on its self-checkout machines. How much paper could this save? Miles of it -- literally.
According to numbers provided by library spokeswoman Michelle Jeffers, a full 78 percent of the main library's March patrons used the 10 self-checkout machines. That's 143,850 of 183,820 patrons. The size of a library receipt varies depending upon how much material you check out, but even just one item will stick you with a six-inch long piece of paper -- and the library did not provide a recycling bin near the machines (not that needlessly wasting paper and then recycling it is any good for the environment).

For the sake of argument, let's say the average receipt was eight inches long. That means that the main branch's March patrons had the option of saving the library a ribbon of paper fully 95,900 feet long. That's 18 miles. Sadly, that's just a drop in the bucket when it comes to the paper used -- often needlessly -- by the city. But 18 miles is 18 miles -- why not save it?

Jeffers said the library actually doesn't yet know if it has saved dramatic quantities of paper -- its next paper order won't be made until August or September. Also, the self-checkout machines at the branch libraries won't be given the "no receipt" option until later this summer.

Even still, it's hard to imagine any possible downsides to this move -- which Jeffers says probably took library techies "very little" time to program. And it's easy to see the miles and miles of upsides.

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