ecoATM is a California-based, US start-up that produces kiosks that buy-back and recycle consumer electronics. It’s in the news because it’s just raised $14.4m for commercialisation and product launch.
It could be the right company at the right time, given that US consumers buy around 500 million new electronic gadgets each year, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. With the average US household now owning 26 different consumer electronic devices, there are a total of three billion in US homes. With gadget manufacturers releasing new products all the time, upgrade cycles are getting shorter, so many of the devices in homes are not even in use.
It’s not easy to responsibly resell or recycle these devices in the US, so the vast majority enter landfill. To address the problem, ecoATM has developed a method of making it easy to recycle, with a financial incentive and the promise of personal data removal.
The process is automated through eCycling Stations - kiosks where consumer electronics and mobile phones are automatically examined, identified and tested - using machine vision, electronic diagnostics and artificial intelligence - to come up with a buy-back price.
The user receives trade-up coupon, gift card, cash, and/or charitable contribution and the portables are automatically binned inside. Around half the phones go to secondary markets and the rest are sent to materials reclamation. The company promises that all personal data from collected mobile phones are erased.
ecoATM trial locations have already collected tens of thousands of devices over the past year and paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars in return for recycling. (There’s a demonstration video here). The company has also been awarded a grant by the National Science Foundation and the US Patent and Trademark Office has granted the company its first patent.
Sounds like a great idea – ease of use and some direct benefit can be a compelling incentive. Anything to keep products from going direct to landfill.