I was fascinated when I read about the ecoATM several months ago. Brilliant idea —  recycling cell phones which are past their prime. But drat! the nearest ecoATM was over 2000 miles away in San Diego. What’s not to like, clean out a junk drawer, hug the planet, walk away with some cash.  I loved the concept and when another news story ran on Saturday morning I checked again and found there was an ecoATM kiosk at the Pentagon City Mall in Arlington.. The exact place I had promised to take  my teenage daughter and friends… but first I headed to the junk drawer and found 7 dead cell phones.
The ecoATM  greeted me with a cute little animated robot and  a promise of “instant” cash. Not so fast!
As someone who spends my life trying to provide lawyers with “one click” solutions, I was shocked at how very “click filled” the experience was. I knew this wouldn’t be as easy as pulling cash from a bank ATM, but this was like a Rube Goldberg version of Redbox. In addition to an abundance of clicking there are other unexpected elements as well. You have to scan a driver’s license, you have to provide a thumb print, you have to remove your glasses while an electric eye validates that you are the person on the drivers license. After an initial scan of the cell phone the machine delivers a QR Code label for you to paste on the phone. Then you are directed where to dispose of the label backing so you don’t litter. After identifying the model of the device, the machine delivers up the right jack wire, it swallows up the cell phone and the robot dances across the screen while the machine does more testing. And then about 20 minutes and a dozen clicks into the process you are told what your device is worth…. drum roll please… in my case $1!
So my first trial of the ecoATM cost me about 30 minutes of time and paid me an ROI of about 2 cents a minute.
In truth unless you have a recent model of an IPhone or Android – this is not about making money… you are just being green. And if you are thinking of hauling in a vintage 90s mobile phone with a carrying case, forget it, it won’t fit in the slot.


 You do have an option at the end of the process to donate the money to a charity, but if you have really old cell phones, is it really worth the time investment even to make a donation?


 Note to ecoATM  Please just add a donation slot for the seriously time deprived and impatient souls like myself. I had 6 more cell phones in my bag, but I didn’t want to invest the approximately 3 hours it would take to “process” them at the kiosk. Plus by the time I finished the first one, a line had formed behind me. I would have been happy to toss the remaining six in a donations bin.


See a  Video Demo Below:

Disclosure: screen above is not showing the first step in the process. You are many clicks in by the time you are attaching the wire. But it gives you an idea of how the machine works.