There are two aging LG cell phones sitting on my entryway table, a Dare and an enV. They have been waiting there for weeks to be picked up and tossed into a recycling bin at Best Buy, but somehow I always forget. The ecoATM aims to influence well-meaning but forgetful folks like me to get on the recycling ball by offering cash for turning in a phone.
Funded through a Small Business Innovation Research grant from the National Science Foundation, the ecoATM is an automated system that allow consumers to turn in obsolete phones and reimburses them with cash. The kiosk can evaluate devices using diagnostics that can find things like cracked screens or bleeding pixels and determine what's an easy fix or when the device is dead. The smart database that the ATM runs on is trained with more than 4,000 devices, and as it inspects more of them, it gains more knowledge.
After evaluating the device, the system calculates the value by looking through the company's real-time pre-auction system. According to the press release, within that system, "a broad network of buyers have already bid in advance on the 4,000 different models in eight possible grades, so the kiosk can immediately provide compensation." The total process only takes a few minutes.
Three-fourths of the phones collected are repurposed to second homes, giving them to people who may not have otherwise had the chance to use modern devices. The others are sent to recycling centers to reclaim some materials and keep toxic ones from ever seeing the light of a landfill.
A San Diego-based engineering firm is already on board to build the ATMs domestically and get the phone-recycling ball rolling. And with a few awards and a finalist position at the Consumer Electronics Association Inaugural Innovation Entrepreneur Awards, we might see these popping up everywhere, soon.