Question: I know this isn’t strictly a restaurant question, but I’m curious—are there energy efficient vending machines?

Answer: Too often, vending machines are small-scale energy suckers. Natural Resources Canada estimates that an average refrigerated beverage vending machine uses between 2,500 kWh and 4,000 kWh, costing between $200 and $350 per year per machine. Over 90 percent of vending machines dispense drinks, and across the country, they use the equivalent electricity demand of 50,000 houses.

This isn’t an enormous amount, but it does add up, especially when you consider that many organizations have multiple machines—and since it’s the user, not the supplier, who’s usually stuck with the energy costs, it’s important to try and find machines that are as energy efficient as possible.

Where does the energy go? Well, the refrigeration system accounts for 65% of energy use, while lighting makes up the remaining 35%. And because drinks need to stay cool, beverage vending machines don’t get unplugged, even when buildings are empty.

The good news is that there are ENERGY STAR-qualified machines available, which are 45%-55% more efficient than standard machines, and come with hardware or software that put the machine into low-power mode during periods of inactivity.

So what do you need to look for when it comes to installing a vending machine?

  • Look for machines that are ENERGY STAR qualified and include features like energy efficient compressors, fan motors, insulation, and lighting. As well, make sure the refrigerant is carbon dioxide rather than hydrofluorocarbons, which have been linked to global warming.
  • Consider packaging. The Green Drinks Company in the UK packages its drinks in refillable pouches, which are resealable, use less plastic, and pack flat.
  • Think about what you’re vending. Consider selling healthy, socially responsible snacks, like the organic, all-natural, fair-trade munchies on offer from Natural Source Vending Machines (who also happen to use energy efficient vending machines as well).
  • Install a drink machine that will fill a reusable cup. They still exist, and they’ll cut down on the amount of packaging that gets thrown out.
  • Consider no vending machine at all. What about providing a shelf of healthy snacks, a fridge of drinks, and an honour box for payment? According to the book Freakonomics, most people are pretty honest—you can expect the payment rate to be between 86% and 91%. The small amount you lose through theft will be more than made up in what you save in energy costs.

Image credit: myguitarzz