Paper or plastic? There’s a growing dispute over that issue.

But, no, we’re not talking about the one at the grocery store and other shops where plastic bags have become a national environmental issue because of plastic pollution and the drive to get shoppers to use reusable cloth bags.

This dispute is over what’s in your wallet. It’s an assault on using the greenback, regular old money issued by the U.S. government. More merchants are rejecting those dollar bills as cash-less stores that rely on credit cards or phone apps to pay for a purchase are on the rise.

It seems like only yesterday that some merchants rejected credit card payments and demanded cash only — or added a surcharge or a minimum purchase amount (and some still do) to cover the costs of processing.

How times change. We haven’t heard of a dispute around here yet, but the growing dispute was chronicled last week in an Associated Press story that told of a New York city man who went to Dos Tacos Taqueria in Manhattan to buy a taco. He had cash, but the taqueria was cash-free. The man, an ironworker named Hember Figueroa, had to stand aside, taco in hand, until a sympathetic clerk helped him find a fellow customer who was willing to take Figueroa’s cash in exchange for making the purchase on his credit card.

That seems like just a bizarre and laughable inconvenience, but the cashless purchase practice has raised the ire of activists and liberal-leaning policymakers in some states and cities who are demanding a ban on cashless stores because, they say, it discriminates against people without bank accounts or credit cards.

According to the AP story, 6.5 percent of American households — 8.4 million — do not have a bank account. The incidence of being unbanked is disproportionately greater among minorities: 17 percent of African-American households and 14 percent of Hispanic households have no bank accounts, compared to just 3 percent of white households without.

Business owners contend they are just acceding to the demands of customers who want fast and seamless service without waiting for cashiers to make change. Plus, cashless systems cut down on the risk of robbery (yes, the taqueria noted above had two robberies before going cashless) and the threat of pilferage by employees.

But opponents of cashless stores who see the trend as being discriminatory have had some success. Philadelphia banned cashless stores this year, followed by the state of New Jersey and a similar proposal is under consideration in New York City.

Amazon, which has 30 cashless stores, including its Amazon Go convenience stores, this month backed down and agreed to accept cash at those stores. But the wholesaler Sam’s Club opened its first cashier-less store in Dallas last year with technology allowing patrons to pay with smartphones; the Kroger grocery chain has similar technology. Stadiums in Tampa and Atlanta have started to go cashless or nearly cashless. It would be the height of irony if the Fiserv Forum, home of the Milwaukee Bucks, was to go buck-less.

We don’t know where this fight will go, but sooner or later it will undoubtedly come to Wisconsin. Hold on to your wallet — and your smartphone. It used be we welcomed hearing the words “your money’s no good here,” because it meant the owner or manager was taking care of the bill. Now it means you can’t buy anything.

Subscribe to Breaking News

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Load comments