Vending machines ‘a menace to Earth’

The Straits Times, 5 August 2000

The five million beverage machines in Japan use up too much energy and release ozone-depleting gases, claims a locally-based environmental group

TOKYO—There are five million vending machines in Japan, all dispensing convenience. But unknown to many, they are an eco-menace, according to an environmental group.

According to a Kanagawa Prefecture-based non-government organisation (NGO), the Japan Association of Environment and Society for the 21st Century (JAES 21), vending machines destroy city aesthetics and use massive amounts of energy resulting in the release of carbon dioxide.

Mr Saburo Kato, head of JAES 21, said that the cooling agents in older machines, which are gradually being taken out of service, contain ozone-depleting gases that escape into the atmosphere if not properly disposed of.

Newer versions, meanwhile, contain powerful greenhouse gases, he added.

The Japan Times reported that after more than a year of discussion, the group released a booklet in late 1999 that hits at the beverage vending machine industry as a creature comfort with little-realised negative sides.

According to Mr Kazumitsu Matsuo, who is also a member of the NGO, the beverage machines are at the crux of the issue.

Sales from these machines topped those of convenience stores in 1997 and were four times that of coffee shops, according to the group's booklet, Environmental Problems From The Perspective Of Beverage Vending Machines.

The NGO calculates that beverage machines annually consume 7.8 billion kilowatt-hour of electricity—nearly the amount of energy generated in a year by a 1.1 million kwh nuclear plant—accounting for almost 1 per cent of the nation's carbon dioxide emissions.

But in recent years, the vending machine industry has developed more efficient eco-vendor machines that trim energy usage by as much as 15 per cent, the Japanese daily reported.

Mr Kato and Mr Matsuo claim a rethinking of the machines' convenience and place in society is needed.

Vending machines are certainly convenient, but they clearly also have a big environmental impact. The big question is how to balance the two, Mr Kato said.