For a few years now, we've been able to walk up to a vending machine, swipe our credit cards, and watch an iPod pop out of the slot. Why shouldn't there be a kiosk that reverses this relationship, and buys used electronics from us? Meet the EcoATM, a machine equipped with the cameras and artificial intelligence to quickly determine what kind of used cell phone you've got, and offer an estimate on how much it's worth.
Here's how it works: Just drop your phone in a slot, follow some instructions on a touch screen, and offer up some personal information to protect against fraud and theft. The machine will reward you with cash on the spot—but first, it asks if you want to donate it to a charity. Your old cell phone is then either resold on the global market for used devices, or recycled at an eco-friendly smelting facility.
The EcoATM is a venture of the same kiosk masters who brought us the CoinStar (a machine that turns nickels and dimes into cash) and RedBox (the video rental machine that sounded the death knell for Blockbuster after Netflix went for the jugular). But this machine has the potential to transform more than just your piggy bank or your Saturday night. In 2000 alone, more than 4.6 million tons of e-waste made its way into U.S. landfills. And 100 million cellphones are ditched each year, either in landfills or dusty desk drawers. E-waste leaches toxins like mercury, lead, and arsenic into the ground and atmosphere. Now that the EcoATM is popping up in shopping areas across the West Coast—and has plans to expand elsewhere—recycling this stuff will soon be as easy as cashing a check.
"There's usually a winner and loser in business, but in this company everyone's a winner," says Tom Tullie, the company's CEO. "The environments' a winner, the customer's a winner, our buyers are winners."