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New ATM Cashes In On Old Cell Phones

— You may have noticed some new ATM look-alikes in several San Diego malls.

Audio

Aired 2/18/11

Called EcoAtm’s, the new machines pay cash for "e-waste" like outdated and broken cell phones.

A new automated kiosk called "EcoAtm" offers cash for recycling old cell phones.
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Above: A new automated kiosk called "EcoAtm" offers cash for recycling old cell phones.

The green and white stand-alone machines are called EcoAtm’s or automated ecycling stations.

The ecycler stations are actually automated kiosks that recycle and pay money for cell phones and small electronic devices of all makes and models.

Here’s how they work. You place your old device in the ATM’s bin. Then a computer identifies the device and inspects it inside and out. The ATM’s touch screen then displays the payout value.

Depending on the condition and type of device, a customer will be paid as little as a dollar or up to several hundred dollars per unit.

Payment choices come in the form of a check, store credit or charity voucher. If you don’t like the amount, you can cancel the transaction at anytime.

The phone or device can be old, damaged or completely broken, explained Tom Tullie, CEO of EcoATM, a San Diego-based company.

“It doesn’t have to work. It can be broken, it can be water damaged. It can work but have a broken screen—we take all phones in all conditions,” he said.

The phones are routinely collected from EcoAtm’s kiosks. Phones that work are refurbished and sold to wholesale markets, while non-working phones are “responsibly recycled,” said Tullie.

“We’ll take the parts out we can use. Metals are smelted appropriately in an eco-friendly way and disposed of properly," he said.

Tullie also said keeping cell phones out of the landfill was a primary motivation for starting the company. He compared it to the early years of recycling bottles and cans.

“E-cycling cell phones extend the life-cycle of these devices, much in the way 1970s redemption-value laws on bottles and cans dramatically changed their life-cycles,” said Tullie.

In 2009, EcoATM introduced about 15 machines to the San Diego market as a trial run; there are more than two dozen in local malls now. They’re also in Orange County, Washington State and Nebraska malls.

Following a $180,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, Tullie said he plans on deploying 200 more EcoAtm’s over the next year.

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