How to Recycle Your Cell | EcoATM Offers New Life to Old Phones

ecoatm, cell recycling
EcoATM dishes out $15 for four recycled phones.

The next time you visit a big mall, think about what you expect to find there—stores, of course, and restaurants, maybe even some service vendors like an alterations shop, climbing wall, or cell phone store. But nobody takes their recycling to the mall. After all, these elaborate temples of modern consumerism are all about buy, buy, BUY!

An innovative recycling company is beginning to change that. Focusing on the “reuse” side of the “reduce, reuse, recycle” triangle that symbolizes recycling, ecoATM offers a smart, easy way to recycle old or broken cell phones, MP3 players, and tablets. And ecoATM is staging its low-key revolution at regional shopping malls across the country, right where you might pick up your next latest greatest device.

I noticed the large green ecoATM in the food court of my favorite shopping center a few weeks ago. About the same size as a first-generation bank ATM, it was black and green, with a display screen and space to place the item offered for evaluation.

ecoatm, cell recycling

EcoATM makes it easy.

Right off, I had some questions. So like any savvy consumer (or, in this case, seller) I took “caveat emptor” as my motto and checked things out online before committing the time and energy necessary to gather the five phones my family had lying around. Some of the answers surprised me.

How does it know my phone isn’t stolen?
The kiosk has a dark glass oval for scanning thumbprints to verify your driver’s license, which you insert ATM-like to begin your evaluation process. I suppose it would be possible to get cash for a stolen phone, but it would take a pretty stupid criminal to offer up an ID and thumbprint, considering the notice of ecoATM’s cooperation with local law enforcement.

How does it know what kind of shape my phone is in?
This is the impressive part. The geniuses at ecoATM have created a sophisticated algorhythm that allows the kiosk to identify the make and model of the phone, assess current worldwide demand for it, and evaluate its condition on a scale of 1 to 8. All this information helps determine the offer.

What if my phone isn’t charged?
As part of the evaluation, ecoATM offers the appropriate data cord. On the outside of the kiosk, users have a variety of power cords to get enough juice to turn on. (Theoretically, other shoppers could also pick up a free charge for their phones. It might be part of the ecoATM master plan to generate word of mouth with minimal ad dollars.)

Will I get more than selling it online?
Maybe, maybe not. But that brings us to . . .

When do I get my money?
Just like a bank ATM, ecoATM is a money-spitting-out machine, dispensing tens and ones.

What if the phone has been sitting in a drawer for four years and worldwide demand has passed it by—is it destined for the landfill?
Probably not. Founder Mark Bowles seems to genuinely care about the environment. (For example, animation that entertains and educates sellers runs during the evaluation step, with a description of how dead cell phones are hurting our planet.) So even if ecoATM doesn’t have a buyer for your phone, the company will offer a dollar or two “donation fee” so they can strip out the valuable or potentially toxic parts.

If I don’t like the amount I’m offered, is it too late to keep my phone?
In my case, we had an eight-year-old Blackberry and four two- to four-year-old smart phones to sell. After seeing the offer amounts, we decided to give one of the smart phones to a friend and retrieved it from the kiosk.
Here’s what my email receipt reported:

You recycled the following device(s)
$ 1.00 Palm TREO 680
$ 1.00 Palm TREO 680
$ 2.00 LG Quantum C900
$ 11.00 Blackberry BOLD 9000

$ 15.00 total paid out

That’s it! Just toss the cords and cases in the slot on the side of the kiosk. The whole process took about 15 minutes and drew a circle of curious onlookers. Those folks probably went straight home to check their junk drawers for phones.
How many are sitting around your place?
Coralridge Mall in Coralville has an ecoATM kiosk. For other locations go to

If you have a Verizon cell, check out their recycling options: Recycle Verizon cell