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Will the supermarket kiosk craze that helps you cash in coins, rent DVDs and recycle water bottles lead to a boom in gadget and cell phone recycling? A startup called ecoATM hopes so, and its idea to build electronics recycling kiosks nationwide has enabled it to raise a series B round of funding of about $17 million, the company said Tuesday.
The San Diego startup puts kiosks in shopping malls and other retail spaces — particularly in locations near stores selling consumer electronics — that dispense cash, gift cards or coupons for mobile gadgets. The company has lined up buyers who promise to pay for the gadgets it collects, so when a consumer uses the kiosk to sell her phone, ecoATM can search for the best price from among its network of buyers and pass on part of that revenue to the consumer.
The company raised $14.4 million only over a year ago, and investors from that round, including Claremont Creek Ventures and Coinstar, also put money into the new round. New investors include PI Holdings, Moore Venture Partners and Koh Boon Hwee, who ecoATM describes as a “Singapore billionaire” (he was former chairman of Singapore Airlines and Singapore Telecom and worked at Hewlett-Packard).
EcoATM already has kiosks operating in about 50 locations in California and a smattering more in other states such as Kansas, Nebraska and Washington, according to the company’s website. The one at the Nebraska Furniture Mart was the company’s first installation and put in service in the fall of 2009. The company used to have a more ambitious plan of installing 200 kiosks by the end of 2010.
The new funding will enable the company to carry out a broader, national rollout, said ecoATM’s CEO, Tom Tullie, in a statement.
E-waste recycling isn’t a new idea, but making it convenient could help it become a habit. Even though people know recycling is a good thing, they may not go out of their way to hunt for recycling centers and drive there or ship their gadgets. Some recycling centers take old gadgets but don’t pay for them. So getting money or other goodies in return could be an attractive incentive.
The Consumers Electronics Association estimated back in 2008 that each American household owned 24 electronic devices. The head of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, Lisa Jackson, has called on electronic companies to think about how their gadgets could be recycled while they are designing products. In 2005, the U.S. generated 2 million tons of e-waste and only about 350,000 tons of them were recycled, the EPA said. The rest just ended up in landfills here and abroad.