The Green Scoop

Thermal Receipts That Might Help Us Make Better Dietary Choices

Thermal Receipts That Might Help Us Make Better Dietary Choices

When the cashier hands you over your receipt, do you even take a second or third look at it? Do you think it’s something that will influence you to make better dietary choices? Susie Lu thinks that your grocery receipt isn’t just a list of things that you bought. It’s a potential tool that can help people make the most out of their money and possibly, to make better dietary choices.

We all know how bubble charts and bar graphs can make quite an impact once we see numbers and words in arranged percentages. Lu is an expert in data visualization at Netflix and she enjoys doing her own projects.

"I was compelled to think of ways that data visualization could be used to redesign everyday experiences. Of the use cases I had brainstormed, the receipt was the idea I was most excited to play with first." Lu mentioned to Fast Company.

Susie Lu picked up a thermal printer, the same as those used in the grocery stores and decided to play around ways to present the date that is considered meaningful to shoppers. She was challenged by navigating through the low-definition printer, which takes away the idea that food icons can be placed in the receipts.

Instead, Lu came up with something far better—bubble charts. In the receipt, it will show how much percentage of the total went to a certain food category like meat and seafood, fruits and vegetables, dairy, snacks and the like.

"A $13 ribeye steak fills the bar full, while a $4 chicken jalapeno sausage only makes a small dent. In aggregate, this design lets you skim to see where your dollars went categorically, and by item." Says Lu.

However, even though this concept is very interesting and can be considered helpful, it does raise a lot of questions. Some of us already know about thermal receipts being a source of bisphenol or what is commonly known as BPA.

BPA was banned in a lot of plastic materials that we use back in 2010, including baby bottles. The problem is, this hormone disrupting chemical is still found in other things including thermal paper (Receipts, transit passes, movie tickets, etc.) With this in mind, we shouldn’t be encouraging the use of thermal receipts by coming up with more ideas to make use of it.

Perhaps what we should do is find a way to utilize the data without the use of thermal receipts. Going paperless would definitely be a big help to the environment. With the advanced technology that we have, we can easily create an app for curious consumers.

Also, Lu’s concept can only work if a person shops in one place at one time in order to be able to gather accurate data. Otherwise, the summary of the shopper’s dietary summary is deemed inaccurate. For example, if you shopped your vegetables from the farmer’s market instead of the grocery store, your receipt won’t have any record of you buying them. Thus, it won’t be reflecting that you have a balanced diet judging by your grocery list.

Maybe, a better way to execute this is a climate footprint graph could be placed in receipts. That way, we can all have access to information that indicates which food products tend to be costly to the environment so we can make conscious decisions on what to purchase and what to avoid.

Even though Lu’s idea was very interesting and with a couple of tweaks it can be helpful, she has no plans in pursuing her concept. This can serve as a reminder that we can always improve on the ways we make use of items like this on a daily basis.