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The BBC's Nicola Carslaw reports
"We're living much more active lifestyles"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 10 May, 2000, 22:00 GMT 23:00 UK
Age of the green machine
Nicola Carslaw with Asda fabic conditioner machine
Supermarket vending machines can save money - and the environment
By consumer affairs correspondent Nicola Carslaw

The days of supermarket shelves piled high with plastic bottles full of cleaning products may be numbered.

One store has come up with the idea of dispensing fabric conditioner through a vending machine. It is an experiment Asda believes will work because shoppers increasingly use slot machines for convenience.

Big in Japan
Japanese vending machine
Vending machines are big business in Japan
In Japan, there is a vending machine on every street corner - one machine for every 20 people. Day or night, you can buy virtually anything, from underwear to CDs, videos, beer and sushi. Auto sales, as they are known, are worth more than 40bn a year.

In the UK, it is a 1bn industry. But, it is expanding fast. Auto sales of refreshments alone leapt 9% last year.

Jan Posiadly, of the Automatic Vending Association, says it is down to our 24-hour lifestyle: "We're living much more active lifestyles. We're no longer having breakfast, we're no longer having traditional family meals. So we are looking for refreshment whatever we do."

sign at Asda supermarket
Machines here are being marketed as environmentally friendly
Green dividend

But the latest vending machine to come on stream aims to address environmental concerns. It is designed to cut down on waste, rather than serve our round-the-clock needs in what many consider to be a throwaway culture.

Asda is trying out a fabric conditioner vending machine. Its own brand two-litre conditioner is on sale, at cut price, from an automatic vending point in the household aisle at its hypermarket in Watford.

Customers then return with the same bottle for a refill - saving 25p off the usual retail price.

Naturally, there are those who say it is kinder to the environment not to use fabric conditioner at all. But, given that it is a popular purchase,
girl with 1950s slot machine
Vending machines are nothing new - this is a 1950s version
Asda's corporate affairs director, Christine Watts, says if every one who normally buys it in the UK switched to this new system, customers would save 7.5m, while 30 million bottles would not need to be sent to landfill sites, saving enough fuel to run a family saloon for more than 1,000 years.

It is all a far cry from the very first vending machine - said to have been invented in 215 BC by the Greek mathemetician, Hero, to dispense water in temples. But the UK still has a long way to go before it becomes as reliant on automation as Japan.

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