Five Urban Vending Machines with a Difference


This post is also available in: Chinese (Traditional), Spanish, French

Maybe it’s because of my sheltered upbringing in rural Wales (which I am blaming for everything), but a vending machine to me is something you put money in to get a drink or some kind of snack. I’m always fascinated by vending machines in hotels that sell things like socks or deodorant (deodorant! In a vending machine!), but it was a new level of fascination when I read this article about a Chinese vending machine with a difference.


This photo almost looks like a typical vending machine. There’s some kind of money slot, and a hole. So are these Beijing citizens putting money in and getting drinks in return? Nope. Known as the ‘Reverse Vending Machine’, users insert their empty plastic bottles and get paid for recycling. Beijing will be home to 2,000 of these machines in 2 years time. “You get rewarded for recycling. People can also have the money donated if they wish,” says Chang Tao, Director of the company producing the machines.

This got me thinking about another kiosk-with-a-difference that I saw in Bogota last year.


City Capsula is far from your typical vending machine. Owned by City Bogotá – a local TV station – citizens can record themselves on the machine, potentially getting featured on TV in return. Arguably a bit of light hearted fun, these vending machines could easily be used for breaking news from the city’s streets.

berlin bike vending machine

If you find yourself with a flat tyre and 7 Euros in Berlin, keep your eyes peeled for one of these yellow vending machines. With six different types of tyres, there’s something for most urban cyclists here. Though if your flat tyre changing skills are anything like mine, finding your nearest bike shop on Google Maps is probably still your best option.


This one’s veering into WTF? territory, but it is very much a real vending machine. Residents of Tokyo – where else?! – who want to buy eggs without any kind of human or chicken interaction have always got this vending machine.


And whilst we’re on the subject of cultural stereotypes, you know how French people love baguettes and eat them all the time? Citizens of Gironde have got this vending machine to turn to in their time of need.

Any unusual vending machines in your neighbourhood?

  • Elaine Edmonds

    Theres a vending machine in the shopping centre in Dun Laoghaire, Dublin which makes and cooks a pizza for you. And one I saw in Lanzarotte which has a whole convenience store stock and you order through touch screen…

    • Joe Peach

      I’ve seen those pizza ones too – too scared to actually order a pizza though. Have you? Touch screen vending machines the next logical step in supermarkets? People have embraced self-checkouts!

      • Elaine Edmonds

        I tried it. It wasnt that good, its gone now, lasted about 6 months. The touch screen vending machine is brill for late night snacks except when you open the drawer too quick and the chocolate falls behind it…

  • Vanessa

    In Munich’s central station you may find a vending machine that sells last-minute gifts for your partner as well as souvenirs. You may also find a vending machine in Munich where you can buy medicine which is obtainable without a prescription, e.g. painkiller. And in my old university you could by ice-cream from a vending machine – very handy to my mind!

  • John Thornton

    Good article. I remember the UK’s Channel 4 had a similar machine to City Capsula for City Bogotá. But the cowards in C4 management got too scared of the home truths they were being told and removed it! I haven’t been for years but Amsterdam had some great vending machines in shops, which opened late at night, and from which you could buy, item by item, an entire hot meal.

  • ian ralph

    In Hong Kong I was always amazed by the number of vending machines selling products such as mp3 players, ink cartriges, cosmetics, sim cards, as well as a fine selection of food and drink options all of which you can too easily pay for with a swipe of your octopus card (similar to oyster card in London). However, the prize has to go to Japan’s Rhinoceros Beetle vending machines!

    • Jordan

      In North America, Best Buy (electronics company) has vending machines in airports that sell headphones, MP3 players, cameras, memory cards… don’t know if I’d ever buy an iPod from a vending machine, though!

  • Trending City

    Great Article! I just wrote a blog post on this too > < & looked at a 'flip flop' vending machine in Sydney, Australia!

    • Joe Peach

      Nice! But you mean, thongs, right?! 😉

  • erika

    Denmark has been using the bottle recycling machines for years!

    • Kate

      As has the United States! Haha, this author needs to travel more.

      • Ciise

        The same is in Holland but if you a big bottle of any kind of drink/liquid you always have to pay 25 eurocents more but you get it back when you use the vending machine

  • Carol

    In Taipei you can check out library books 24/7 from a machine outside the library.