Recycling a Phone at EcoATM Is an Easy Route To Feeling Green

I’ve been standing at an EcoATM in the Pacific Place mall in Seattle for about four minutes, when the machine that promises to pay cash for phones, MP3 players, and tablets suddenly tells me something that makes me feel better about myself.

“An average of three tons of toxic mining waste is generated just to get the small amount of precious metals needed to create a new mobile device,” the EcoATM kiosk says, as it scans my silver BlackBerry World Edition. “By reselling or recycling your mobile device, you are helping stop that toxic mess from being created.”

The smartphone, whose trackball last glowed for a game of Brick Breaker several years ago, was collecting dust in a rat’s nest of old cords and chargers, along with half a dozen other phones, MP3 players, and laptops. EcoATM estimates that most Americans have five or six old cell phones kicking around somewhere; less than 12 percent of the 141 million mobile devices that reached end-of-life in 2009 were recycled, according to widely cited EPA statistics.

Lately we’ve brought you several reports about ways to deal with obsolete devices, including my visit last month to an e-waste recycling facility in Seattle, and articles on services such as Boston-based Gazelle and Irving, TX-based eRecycling Corps, all of which compete with EcoATM’s 1,000-some kiosks nationwide for phones and other equipment that still may have some residual value. Device manufacturers themselves are also ramping up their recycling and repurchasing programs.

But there’s plenty of work to go around: EcoATM says it has recycled 2 million devices so far, and it estimates the size of the global recycled-mobile-device market at $5 billion annually.

Xconomy has covered the company’s beginnings in a Del Mar, CA, Starbucks in 2008 and traced its journey through to its $350 million acquisition last summer by Bellevue, WA-based Outerwall. Recently, I decided to try the service myself to see how easy it would be to turn an old phone into cash.

Convenience and immediacy are EcoATM’s main advantages over the competition, the company’s director of communications Ryan Kuder says. The kiosks are typically located in malls or other high-foot-traffic areas where people are going anyway. There’s no shipping or dealing with online auctions. There’s certainty about the price you’ll receive for your device right then and there. And you are paid cash, whereas many device manufacturers and mobile carriers may offer only credit in the store or toward an upgrade.

It’s that promise of an on-the-spot payment that may give some thieves—and politicians in a couple of cities—the idea that an EcoATM machine is an easy place to turn stolen devices into cash. But judging from my experience, it’s the last place an actual thief would want to show his face. … Next Page »

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The Author

Benjamin Romano is editor of Xconomy Seattle. Email him at bromano [at] xconomy.com.

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