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Automated route to phone recycling

United States – So-called ‘recycling kiosks’ for personal electronic items, installed by San Diego-based ecoATM, have begun to appear in suburban US malls. The company hopes the new take-back alternative, which accepts devices such as smart phones and tablets, will ‘make electronics recycling as accessible as a grocery shopping trip’.

Mark Bowles, Founder and Chief Marketing Officer for ecoATM, says the difficulty he faced in recycling mobile phones – a frustration he believed he shared with many of the six billion users worldwide – initially led him to develop his plan for the e-scrap kiosks.

‘There is a huge market for used phones and tablets,’ Mr Bowles states. ‘The three reasons I wasn’t recycling was that it wasn’t convenient, it wasn’t incentivised and I was worried about my personal data not getting erased.’

Enter the recycling ATM – or ‘eBay-in-a-box’, as the company refers to it. ‘A robot inside the kiosk presents the person with the exact USB cable that fits the phone. The person hooks up the cable and finds out the device’s highest market value; on the spot, in real time,’ the company states. The high-tech solution is equipped with cameras that help identify the product and assess any damage.  

Sellers are offered a cash price that can be as high as US$ 300 for some newer models, and have the option of making a donation to charity. They are also asked to volunteer some ‘basic personal information’ during the process, by way of a driving licence and electronic thumbprint, in order to help ecoATM and law enforcement agencies ‘deter fencing of stolen items or fraud’.

About 75% of the returned devices get refurbished to live a second life with a new owner, while the rest are recycled for their materials, notes Mr Bowles, who admits that the level of pent-up demand for recycling via the kiosks has surprised him. 

Following an initial financial injection of US$ 30 million, ecoATM has received further mezzanine debt financing of US$ 40 million to keep expanding the kiosk network at the rate of two per day. This has enabled the company to install 305 recycling kiosks so far across 20 US states. It hopes to increase the total to several thousand by next year.

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