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Liquid Vending Machine

Inspired by milk vending machines in Athens

Photo of Amanda Chen
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Recycling is not a big thing in Greece, but the 'milk ATM' in Athens is very inspiring. There is zero small package since the milk is transported with large, reusable metal cans. Now people have an excuse to buy a beautiful glass or ceramic bottle. Fill it with fresh milk any time of the day, be it 3 a.m. 

Similarly, this farmer in the UK is using vending machine to cut middlemen, so that he can earn more. Potentially, this can cut plastic waste too.

so let's byob!

The above vending machine (I call it BYOB system) can be used to distribute many other kinds of liquid, but I will elaborate on the use of milk first. Due to high consumption of milk in many countries, selling milk through BYOB system can make a big difference in reducing plastic waste. Sellers can get their investment on the machines back relatively soon. Let's do some rough math.

According to this report, milk consumed as liquid in the UK accounts for 7,028 million litres in 2014. Assumed that all of the milk is packed in 1L plastic bottles. This whole sale website sells a set of 1L plastic bottle and cap for £0.43. By eliminating the plastic bottles, the whole industry can save £3,022 millions. Who doesn't like money?

Here is a plan for supermarkets: 

1) Campaign stage: sell 50% of their own brand milk with vending machine. First 10,000 customers can get a special design glass bottle (sterilised) for free

2) Transitional stage: sell 75% with vending machine. Customers can pay £1 deposit to get a glass bottle. They can choose to return the bottle to get the deposit back, or use it as their permanent milk container.

3) Final stage: sell 100% with vending machine. Glass bottles with deposit

Small farmers can use a similar plan. They can find a local corner shop to house the machine and provide the glass bottle service.

More byob

This system can be applied on any kind of liquid that has high consumption, from soy milk to coke, from olive oil to soy sauce. In the case of oil, the plastic package is not very desirable for recycling since it's contaminated by oil which is difficult to wash off. Reusing the package is a way out, and even more eco-friendly than recycling.

At what stage of development is your Idea?

  • Research & Early Testing: You are exploring an idea, gathering inspiration and information needed to test it with real users.


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Photo of Modern Dairy Machines null

Clearing the doubt of cleanliness of milk vending parlors. A unique method of representing the liquid vending machines without using plastics!!

Photo of Marisa A

I love this Amanda Chen . Have you tried this out? Where is it located? In a retail space? In a highstreet? With other machines or by itself?

Photo of Amanda Chen

Hi Marisa,
Thank you very much! If you're referring to the milk vending machine in Athens, I haven't tried it out myself since I don't drink milk. It's an independent 'station' (like a gas station) with a few machines only for milk. But the same structure can easily be transferred to a corner shop or a shopping mall.

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Amanda,

Interesting idea. How do they ensure that the milk does not go bad before it is dispensed to the customer?

Could this be used to dispense the syrup and water separately for some soft drinks?

Which use cases could use a liquid vending machine -

Photo of Amanda Chen

Hi Kate,

First of all, the way to transport the milk from farm to seller is the same: by a refrigerated truck. It's just instead of small plastic bottles, the milk is stored in large metal trunk. As for the vending machine, there should be a refrigerator inside to keep the milk cool. Basically, the technology is ready. We need to start a campaign to promote this BYOB habit.

I think it is possible to dispense soft drinks in the way that you mentioned. But maybe it's easier to to just put a big tank of ready-to-drink drinks. We need to contact the vending machine maker to confirm.

As for which cases, it depends on the liquid. For milk vending machine, it can help with case 2-- bottle caps and tear-offs.