Mobile phones and smartphones are gadgets many of us prefer not to live without. Convenience does have a cost, however: estimates suggest that the manufacture of just one cell phone creates anywhere from one to three tons of waste. Then you have the toxic waste that ends up in landfills and our water supply–arsenic, cadmium, mercury, are just the start. Rare earth metals have become more expensive as well. The cycle only becomes more vicious: better phones with more whimsical features shorten upgrade cycles, and the lucky devices just sit in a drawer or storage box.
Many companies, young and established, have tackled the “ewaste” challenge, whether through recycling or sales to secondary markets. One company, however, has melded automation with convenience. ecoATM, based in San Diego, has collected thousands of unwanted mobile phones over the past year and in turn paid consumers hundreds of thousands of dollars in refunds, store credits, or charitable contributions. Now ecoATM has received another round of financing that could help the company grow while making electronic waste recycling even easier.
Last week ecoATM received US$14.4 million in a Series A preferred stock offering, led by Coinstar, Inc. and the venture capital firm Claremont Creek Ventures. That same day the company won a National Science Foundation grant, and rounded out its day of success with the securing of its first patent. The investment is timely: Coinstar holds its own with its automated coin-counting machines in supermarkets, while its Redbox DVD rental stations supplement DVD mailer services like Netflix. Should ecoATM be nimble in leveraging Coinstar’s distribution network, look for the ecoATM to have a larger presence in places like supermarkets and big box stores, where they are needed: currently most ecoATM machines are in trial locations.
The process of recycling your phone through ecoATM is seamless. The consumer places his or her unwanted device in the ecoATM, which looks like a hybrid of an automated teller and a Japanese vending machine. The ecoATM then scans the old device and assigns a value. The consumer then can receive a gift card, cash, trade-up voucher, or can donate the value to charity. Meanwhile the old data on the device is wiped out, and ecoATM either recycles the phone or sells them to dealers who market resell the phones.
It is easy to say that old electronic devices should be recycled, but most consumers do not bother for various reasons. Convenience rules, and services like that of ecoATM’s are a positive step that keeps mobile phones out the trash and landfills. Check out how it works below.