ecoATM Inspiration, Details, & A Fun Story (Interview)

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Lydia Wisz of San Diego Loves Green recently interviewed the Vice President of Engineering and one of the co-founders of San Diego-based ecoATM, John Beane. ecoATM is an innovative company we covered just last month. The interview adds a lot, so I’m happy Roy Hales of San Diego Loves Green reached out to share it with me and offer it up for a repost. Check it out:

Image Credit: Lydia Wisz
Image Credit: Lydia Wisz

By Lydia Wisz

(Q by LW): ecoATM is a San Diego company that started in 2009. Who thought up the idea? Are there any stories connected to the beginnings?

(JB): The founder’s name is Mark Bowles. He read a story about some research by Nokia where they found that only 3% of cell phones were being recycled. He started researching why that was and came to the conclusion that there were 2 issues.

# 1: People were not aware of recycle options and,

# 2: the options weren’t convenient or compelling. He concluded, rightly as it seems, that if he could build a company that developed kiosks that were conveniently located and redeemed the devices for their cash value; people would be more compelled to recycle.

(LW): What’s your background and how did you get involved with ecoATM?

(JB): I have been involved in San Diego startups for over 20 years. I have numerous patents for the design and implementation of kiosks and related systems. Mark and I became acquainted through mutual friends and I fell in love with the idea from the start. I got involved right away and led the design of the hardware and software for the original prototype kiosk. It has been a blur ever since. Time flies when you’re having fun!

(LW): I was hoping to get some stories about ecoATM such as stories about your company and your customers.

(JB): The best customer story was the one covered by ABC News on the family that wanted to buy bunk beds for their two daughters. They saw an ecoATM at a mall near them, rushed home and dug through their drawers where they found old cell phones and MP3 Players to recycle. They earned more than enough to buy the bunk beds. The video is priceless because the little girls were so adorable.

(LW): What happens to the gizmos after people sell them?

(JB): About 60% of the devices recycled get a second life by being refurbished and then reused. The other 40% are smelted to remove the precious and hazardous metals. These metals are then put back into the manufacturing cycle rather than a landfill. This also displaces materials that would have had to be mined. The mining waste for an average cell phone is in excess of 3 tons!

(LW):  Where does ecoATM get its money?

(JB):  ecoATM has been funded by venture capital and strategic partners, but most recently we received $40M in debt in order to significantly grow our kiosk install base.

(LW):  How many states is ecoATM operating in now? What kind of revenues does it have?

(JB):  There are over 300 ecoATMs installed in 22 states. We expect to have nearly 1000 ecoATMs installed by the end of 2013. To date we have recycled 100’s of thousands of devices and paid out millions of dollars. The average person using the machine recycles a couple of phones and walks away with $20 – $30. The newest models will pay out $300 or more. The key thing here is that the kiosk is an ATM. These monies are paid out immediately.

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(LW): Is there anything in your company’s corporate philosophy we might want to know about? Perhaps you can enlighten us on the overall dedication to the company or ways that they are environmentally minded that we don’t see. Some examples of what other companies have done in this regard involve cutting down on waste, employees that car pool, a cafeteria that might specialize in organic meals, or does the company give money to third world missions?

(JB): ecoATM is passionate about trees. They look good. They keep the planet cooler and clean our air. Each year we celebrate Earth Day, and our employees plant a tree on our premises. But our love of trees goes beyond that, we also make ongoing donations to Trees for the Future, which plants trees in deforested areas throughout the hemisphere. Beyond our commitment to trees, we certainly encourage employee carpooling, use water purification systems vs. plastic water bottles that could end up in our landfill and have recycle bins throughout the building.

(LW): Where to from here for ecoATM? World Domination?

(JB): Certainly we are very excited about our future. International expansion seems inevitable. We receive inquiries on an almost daily basis from other countries. There is probably a little frustration on their part that we haven’t gone overseas yet. However, if you have seen and used our machine; you know we make a very complex process look and feel easy. There is a lot of hard work behind doing that and we try to do it better every day. Our focus has always been to do it here first, get it right and make it bulletproof before expanding.

Thanks to our interviewee for enlightening us a little more on the company. To learn more about the great things that ecoATM is doing, you can read about it on their “In the News” section of their website. Additionally, a list of San Diego County locations with ecoATM kiosks can be found at

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Zachary Shahan

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA], NIO [NIO], Xpeng [XPEV], Ford [F], ChargePoint [CHPT], Amazon [AMZN], Piedmont Lithium [PLL], Lithium Americas [LAC], Albemarle Corporation [ALB], Nouveau Monde Graphite [NMGRF], Talon Metals [TLOFF], Arclight Clean Transition Corp [ACTC], and Starbucks [SBUX]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.

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