Recycling a Phone at EcoATM Is an Easy Route To Feeling Green

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“EcoATM requires identification information when recycling a device to protect victims of theft and to help law enforcement,” the machine tells me moments after I begin the process.

“EcoATM protects the environment, and your local community,” it intones a few moments later. “To sell a device, you must be 18 years of age, present a valid, government-issued photo idea, and provide a thumbprint. Your ID will be verified remotely by a human, and your device will be matched against a stolen-device database. We work closely with law enforcement to pursue criminal action for stolen items or other fraud.”

A sign with a gold sheriff’s badge on the outside of the machine reiterates the message even more bluntly: “EcoATM will report any persons attempting fraud or selling stolen property at this kiosk to local law-enforcement.”

This is a key point for the company, Kuder says. Last year, Riverside, CA, and Baltimore, MD, banned the kiosks for fear that they would facilitate smartphone theft. But Kuder thinks the cities misunderstand how its system works. EcoATM does not allow anonymous transactions, as the signs, dialogue, and cameras on the kiosks make clear. The company collaborates with law enforcement; it hosted a two-day summit focused on phone theft in December. It returns any lost or stolen phones that end up in its machines to their rightful owners at the company’s expense. And the company provides police with information about the illicit sellers, allowing them to make arrests, Kuder says.

The EcoATM scans my driver’s license. Then it reminds me that the device should be deactivated with my carrier, and cleared of any sensitive data. (The company and its recycling and resale partners wipe data from devices, too, but only after a 30-day holding period. That way, if a device does come up lost or stolen, it can be returned largely intact, Kuder says.)

Next comes the cool technology part of EcoATM. The kiosks use machine vision, electronic diagnostics, and artificial intelligence to identify and assess devices.

The machine prints out a small sticker with a QR code and asks me to affix it to the back of the device. Then the brushed metal door of the machine slides open, revealing a well-lighted testing bay with a glass floor.

Photo by Benjamin Romano / Xconomy

Photo by Benjamin Romano / Xconomy

I’m instructed to place the device in the center, face up. The door slides shut. (“Don’t worry. You can get it back at any time during the process by touching the cancel button. I won’t harm it in any way,” the EcoATM assures me.)

As the machine scans the device, I get more factoids on the environmental costs of our gadget-obsessed lives.

“Used phones contain toxic stuff like cadmium and mercury that can get into our water system if thrown into a landfill,” the kiosk tells me.

The kiosk doesn’t correctly ID my old BlackBerry right off the bat. But it gets close and provides a short list of possibilities—it can recognize more than 4,000 devices, with the iPhone 4 being the most commonly recycled. I select the right one.

Now for the disappointing news. There’s no market for this device, the machine informs me. … Next Page »

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