By Laura Ly, Special to CNN
New York (CNN) — On any given day, the vending machine at Ample Hills Creamery in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, may offer anything from books to original artwork to toys. If you see something you want, however, no need to take out your wallet. The ‘Swap-O-Matic’ vending machine allows you to swap and trade items, rather than buy them.
“The Swap-O-Matic recognizes that there is a thrill in getting things. The vending machine satisfies our desires for instant gratification, but it co-ops it and re-appropriates it to something that is a more sustainable method of acquisition, which is through swapping and trading,” said Lina Fenequito, the creator and primary designer of the ‘Swap-O-Matic.’
Fenequito wanted to call attention to issues of overconsumption and needless waste and aimed to find a creative way to encourage trading and reusing. For her senior thesis project at Parsons School of Design, she built an earlier, low-tech model. In August 2011, with the help of visual designer Ray Mancini and electrical engineer Rick Cassidy, Fenequito built upon her thesis project and created a machine with touchscreen capability and digital locks.
To use the machine, one simply has to enter their e-mail address on the screen and choose whether they would like to donate, receive, or swap an item. Since none of the items in the machine is assigned a value, all item transactions work on a credit system. As a new user, you’re given three credits to begin with. A credit is earned each time you donate an item and it costs one credit to receive something. Swapping an item in the machine for something that you’ve brought doesn’t require any credits. Anything that fits into the machine can be swapped and traded.
“There have been a few personal items like some original artwork and handwritten poems [swapped in the machine.] And there’s been some kind of oddball items, like there was a jar of Miracle Whip in there, and so that was kind of funny,” said Fenequito.
The primary inspiration for the project came from Fenequito’s parents, who taught her the importance of recycling and reusing. Her experience working with “Youth Creating Change”, an AmeriCorps program, after her college graduation also affected her views on local, community sustainability. So far, she’s gotten positive feedback from people as far away as Brazil, Thailand, the United Kingdom and Italy. Ultimately, she hopes the Swap-O-Matic inspires a movement of people to reconsider their consumption habits and to share their items every day.
Fenequito and her team are currently working on a new ‘Swap-O-Matic’ model that engages with social media technology and features an updated touchscreen interface. They are considering more locations for the newer version and hope to debut the next machine this fall.