More than 80 percent of the televisions, computer products and cell phones that reached the end of their life in 2007 were disposed of, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, with most of them getting tossed into landfills. Only 18 percent of the 2.25 million tons of electronic products were recycled. There are a lot of reasons for those numbers, but the primary cause is, I suspect, convenience. It's just so much easier to toss your old cell phone into the garbage than it is to figure out how to dispose of it properly. But what if you could nudge people, Cass Sunstein-style, to do the right thing?
Enter ecoATM, a San Diego, Calif.-based start-up that is building kiosks for consumer electronics. Just like the Coinstar machine at your local grocery store or the Redbox movie rental location where you pick up and drop off DVDs to watch at home, ecoATM has designed a unit that accepts electronics and spits out cold, hard cash (or you can choose to receive a coupon or gift card or to donate your return to a charitable organization). See the image at right to get an idea of what the machine looks like.
For the past 18 months or so, there have only been about a dozen ecoATMs in the field, most based around the company's headquarters. But thanks to a $14.4 million round of financing completed earlier this month, ecoATM is preparing for rapid expansion. "Our plan is to add hundreds of machines over the next year and then thousands the following year," Anita Giani, ecoATM's media contact told me over e-mail.