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Recycle old phones with push of a button

Kiosk
locations

♦ Chicago Ridge Mall

♦ Fox Valley Mall, Aurora

♦ Golf Mill Shopping Center, Niles

♦ Gurnee Mills Shopping Center

♦ Hawthorn Mall, Vernon Hills

♦ Orland Square Shopping Center, Orland Park

♦ Lincolnwood Town Center

♦ Louis Joliet Mall, Joliet

♦ Northfield Square Mall, Bourbonnais

♦ River Oaks Center, Calumet City

♦ Southlake Mall, Schererville, Ind.

♦ Spring Hill Mall, West Dundee

♦ Stratford Square Mall, Bloomingdale

♦ Woodfield Mall, Schaumburg

♦ Yorktown Shopping Center, Lombard

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Updated: March 10, 2013 6:10AM



Chicagoans have a new alternative to recycling their smart phones, tablets and other electronic devices: ATM-like kiosks that refund money instantly for old electronics.

The ATM-like kiosks, called EcoATM, aim to make electronics recycling as accessible as a grocery-shopping trip. The machines recycle phones, tablets and MP3 players.

It’s a matter of choice, since gadget fans have a growing number of ways to get rid of their electronic junk, both online and at local recyclers.

The ATM-like kiosks are operating at 15 suburban malls throughout the Chicago area. [SEE LIST BELOW]

Here’s how it works: A person puts her old cellphone in the kiosk’s bin, and cameras inside the kiosk identify the phone, ensure that it works and determine any damages.

A robot inside the kiosk presents the person with the exact USB cable that fits the phone. The person hooks up the cable and finds out the device’s highest market value — on-the-spot, in real time. The kiosk then spits out the amount in cash. The process takes about three minutes.

About 75 percent of the returned devices get refurbished to live a new life for a new owner, while the rest are recycled for their materials.

“There is a huge market for used phones and tablets,” said Mark Bowles, 49, founder and chief marketing officer for EcoATM, a San Diego company that designs and holds the patents on the kiosks.

Indeed, 6 billion people worldwide are mobile subscribers, said Bowles, whose frustration with the difficulty of recycling his own electronics led him to create the kiosks. “Ninety percent of new mobile-phone subscribers live in developing countries on a salary of less than $3 a day. Their purchase of a phone is about equivalent to us buying a car.”

EcoATM previously secured $30 million in venture capital and on Jan. 25 closed another $40 million in mezzanine debt financing to expand the kiosk network at the rate of two each day to keep growing. There are now 305 EcoATMs in 20 states.

Though the privately held EcoATM doesn’t reveal revenues or customer numbers, Bowles said he has been surprised by the pent-up demand for recycling at the kiosks. Yet few people choose the charity-donation option, he said, so EcoATM is working to make the donations a one-touch step.

Research shows shoppers — especially those in the emerging middle class in China, India and Brazil — are among the most likely to say they agree that “we need to consume a lot less to improve the environment for future generations (73 percent) and feel “a sense of responsibility to society (73 percent). The study by The Regeneration Roadmap, a project by a sustainability think tank and marketing companies BBMG and GlobeScan.

The study of six international markets revealed nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of respondents said “shopping for new things makes me happy.”

Bowles said he figured out that he kept piling up his own old cell phones and electronics because he didn’t want to go to the trouble of returning them to a store or researching their value and going to a post office to mail them to a recycler.

“The three reasons I wasn’t recycling was that it wasn’t convenient, it wasn’t incentivized and I was worried about my personal data not getting erased,” he said.

Another Chicago company is introducing its own concept of recycling, in this case at construction sites.

United States Gypsum Company, a division of USG Corp., North America’s biggest wallboard and joint compound producer, engineered a machine that recycles wallboard and other waste left over at construction sites.

“We started looking for opportunities, where it made sense financially and to our customers, to bring back to our plants the material left from a job site,” said Al Zucco, senior director of energy and sustainability for Chicago-based USG.

The machine removes and separates paper off of the scrap wallboard to be used in animal bedding, then pulverizes the gypsum to be reused in cement and wallboard.

Wallboard is manufactured from mined or synthetic gypsum. United States Gypsum Co. is the largest user in North America of synthetic gypsum, a byproduct of pollution-control processes at coal-fired plants. Essentially, synthetic gypsum is made by combining lime with precipitates that are left behind inside the stacks of coal-fired power plants. The precipitates would otherwise be landfilled.

The company designs construction products with the environment in mind, as well. United States Gypsum’s Sheetrock-brand UltraLight wallboard panels contain up to 95 percent recycled content, allow a 20 percent reduction in transportation energy costs because more of them can be stacked onto a single truck, and qualify as low volatile organic compounds that emit fewer gases that can harm the environment.

New technology is emerging that would harness a building’s ability to store excess thermal energy inside its concrete and drywall, and tap that energy when it’s needed.

EcoATM locations:

• Chicago Ridge Mall

• Fox Valley Mall, Aurora

• Golf Mill Shopping Center, Niles

• Gurnee Mills Shopping Center

• Hawthorn Mall, Vernon Hills

• Orland Square Shopping Center, Orland Park

• Lincolnwood Town Center

• Louis Joliet Mall, Joliet

• Northfield Square Mall, Bourbonnais

• River Oaks Center, Calumet City

• Southlake Mall, Schererville, Ind.

• Spring Hill Mall, West Dundee

• Stratford Square Mall, Bloomingdale

• Woodfield Mall, Schaumburg

• Yorktown Shopping Center, Lombard



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