From Coin Counting to E-cycling: Coinstar Backs ecoATM

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All hail the kiosk! This morning Coinstar (s CSTR), which runs businesses around kiosks that count coins and kiosks that rent DVDs (redbox), announced that it has invested in ecoATM, a startup that has developed a kiosk for recycling electronics. San Diego, Calif.-based ecoATM was also one of our Green:Net 2010 launchpad winners and raised its first round of VC financing from Tao Venture partners back in February. The terms of Coinstar’s investment were not disclosed.

Cash for high-tech trash. That’s the basic concept for the recycling kiosk from ecoATM. You drop off old electronics at one of these machines, it calculates their value, then pays you on the spot, in cash or coupons. The company says its secret sauce is its kiosks’ ability to automatically estimate — using electronic and visual techniques — a price of the unwanted items that will give consumers an immediate financial incentive to recycle at the station.

The two year old company says it has built a network of 50 buyers around the globe that will take used consumer electronics devices that it collects from its kiosks (from mobile phones to iPods to MP3 players to game cartridges) and recycles the components. ecoATM finds the best price for the devices and then passes a portion of that revenue onto its customers.

The company told us earlier this year that it aims to deploy 200 kiosks across the U.S. by the end of the year, mostly in electronics retailers. Typically, customers receive coupons for buying products in the store where the kiosk resides, and ecoATM then reimburses the store for the value of the exchange.

Incentivizing consumers to recycle gadgets and cell phones has been incredibly difficult. The EPA says that in 2005, the U.S. generated 2 million tons of e-waste and only about 350,000 tons of it was recycled. The remaining bulk ends up in landfills.

All that valuable waste has led to a flurry of activity in the recycling market, with a half dozen startups launching web sites like SecondRotation that help consumers find homes for their used goods (here’s a list of five such sites). The high profile green VCs at  Kleiner Perkins-backed RecycleBank, which partners with cities to provide incentives for residential recycling.

ecoATM’s CEO Mark Bowles told us earlier this year that he thought the web site-as-recycling-center model doesn’t work. Most people don’t want to go through the hassle of labeling and shipping their used items and finding prospective buyers. ecoATM, he says, is all about convenience.

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