With Hundreds Of Thousands Of Phones Collected, Device Recycler ecoATM Adds Tablets

According to Strategy Analytics, about 1.6 billion mobile phones were shipped in 2012, with 700 million of those being smartphones. That doesn’t even take tablets into account. Compass Intelligence estimates that 18 million new tablets were sold during the fourth quarter of 2012. Naturally, as waves upon waves of new smartphones and tablets hit stores, people need a way of disposing of their old, used devices.

EnterĀ ecoATM, the Coinstar for your has-been mobile devices. For those unfamiliar, the San Diego-based startup is the maker of nifty ATM-like kiosks that fully automate the buy-back of used consumer electronics, giving you cash for your old iPod. We first caught wind of this innovative concept when it debuted at DEMO Spring 2011, promising to bring its self-serve recycling kiosks to a mall near you.

Since then, the startup has found plenty of eager adopters at retail outlets and has paid out “millions of dollars to hundreds of thousands of customers.” And, in the process, ecoATM Chairman and CEO Tom Tullie says it has saved landfills from hundreds of thousands of potentially toxic devices. To date, the startup has been able to “find a second life” for 60 percent of the devices it has collected, recycling the rest.

However, until now, ecoATM has only addressed a portion of the used device market, as its kiosks have been limited to accepting your cell phones, smartphones and MP3 players. But, today, with the tablet market in full bloom, the startup has expanded its support in kind, announcing that its kiosks will now be accepting used tablets of all stripes. Cash for clunky tablets. [Want to find the location of the nearest ecoATM, GPS yo self here.]

Now that a year has passed since ecoATM took home the Best Clean Tech Startup award at the Crunchies, we decided to check in with Ryan Kuder, the company’s marketing director, to hear more about the progress the startup has made over the last 12 months. Not surprisingly, Kuder tells us that 2012 was a year of dramatic growth for ecoATM and its kiosks, and the validation of winning a Crunchie “right at the beginning of that” definitely helped. (Wink.)

ecoatmmachine_03 Since winning the award, ecoATM has gone from 50 kiosks to about 300 in 20 states. This year, he’s hoping to add another 600 or 700 kiosks, bringing the total to 1,000. And although ecoATM has focused on placing machines in malls, Kuder said, “Eventually, we’re going to run out of malls.” That’s why it’s also testing kiosks in supermarkets and other locations. (To fund that growth, ecoATM raised a $17 million round in the spring.)

But are people actually using the machines? Well, Kuder said people used ecoATM to recycle “hundreds of thousands of phones” last year, and with the company’s expansion plans, that number should go into the millions this year.

As the tablet announcement suggests, ecoATM is also expanding beyond phones into other categories of portable electronics, but Kuder said the company will be proceeding carefully: “You know, it’s important to do the things we do well.”

By the way, the Crunchies are tomorrow night at the Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco. You can buy tickets here.