Just 20 percent of electronic waste is recycled, says The Telegraph, and all of that junk is causing an environmental disaster we'll need years to recover from. Every time you choose to throw a cellphone away, you're adding to that problem.

Companies like ecoATM hope to convince you to recycle your unwanted phone, and to sweeten the pot, they'll give you a little money for most devices.

If you've walked into any Wal-Mart lately, you've probably seen one of these cellphone ATMs. But should you use them? Here's what we found out.


What's the Concept?


The idea of selling old cellphones isn't new. The method ecoATM uses to complete that transaction certainly is.

Selling your cellphone typically means:

  • Listing it online. Craigslist, eBay, and other websites let you push your phone to potential buyers, and when you connect, money changes hands.
  • Returning to the manufacturer. Trading in your old device for a new one helps you raise a bit of cash.
  • Using an online reseller. Companies (like ours) use a computer interface to get phone information, and we issue a check when the device arrives in the condition you've described online.

Most of these options involve a few conversations and a lot of time. The founders of ecoATM wanted to shake up the model.

In 2010, the company opened the first kiosk in Omaha. According to the company's founder, people waited up to 45 minutes to use the machine. That may seem like a long wait, but it is small in comparison to the weeks it can take to get money in a conventional sales program.


Benefits of This Cellphone ATM


Speed is the main benefit of the ecoATM system. Rather than waiting days or even weeks for your money to arrive, you'll get immediate payment from the kiosk. But the company also suggests that they have benefits their competitors just can't match.

For example, some platforms are designed for a straightforward resale. You give the company your phone, and they sell that phone to someone else. In a way, the company is a pass-through organization that wants a very good inventory that can be sold quickly.

ecoATM makes some money from resale opportunities, says CNBC, but it also connects with repair shops. Those groups need:

  • Batteries
  • Cases
  • Screens
  • Memory boards
  • Wires

Your phone may not be right for you, but it could have bits and pieces a broken phone needs for a successful repair. A resale organization might not want a broken phone for parts. But ecoATM is different.

The company is also widespread and easy to find. There are more than 2,000 kiosks scattered around the country, ecoATM says, and many are in shops you visit every day. If you're looking for a quick cashflow solution, this company is fully prepared to help. For many people, that's ideal.


Drawbacks of the Wal-Mart Phone Machine


Quick money for an old device: What could go wrong? Plenty, say some people that have tried this machine.

Consider this. ecoATM developed an app on Google Play, which allows users to investigate the value of various types of phones and then find a kiosk near them to make a sale. Several of the app reviews are negative. People complain about:

  • Broken machines. Malfunctioning card readers and inaccurate hours are common complaints.
  • Low values. Users explain how much ecoATM is willing to pay versus how much competitors want to deliver, and the gap is significant (more on that in a minute).
  • Poor technology. Users report that some machines can't accurately identify their phones, and they get poor price quotes as a result.
  • Retained phones. Users are told they can get their phones back at any point, but at least one reviewer says the machine shut down and kept his phone.

Law enforcement officials also worry that kiosks are used for crimes. To complete a transaction, you must enter identification documents and give the machine a thumbprint, and cameras record the entire process. These steps can ensure that police can catch people selling stolen items, but they can't prevent a crime in progress.

According to news reports, only 1 out of every 1,500 phones the company takes in has been reported stolen. But people who do have a device sold to ecoATM enter a legal nightmare of paperwork, delays, and red tape to get their property back.


Is This a Great Deal?


As we've mentioned, many customers have written angry notes about how much they're offered for their phones. But is their anger justified? We dug a little deeper.

Your ecoATM price is dependent on a variety of factors, and that's why you're asked so many questions before you can sell your device. Using the iPhone 6 as a model, we compared the value of a phone that is:

  • Unlocked and working perfectly: $40
  • Locked and working perfectly: $35
  • Unlocked with scratches: $30
  • Unlocked with cracks: $30
  • Unlocked but won't turn on: $15

We ran the same tests on our system for comparison:

  • Unlocked and working perfectly: $85
  • Locked and working perfectly: $80
  • Unlocked with scratches: $75
  • Unlocked with dents: $55
  • Unlocked but won't turn on: $0

Clearly, you pay for speed with ecoATM. The amount the machine will give you is significantly lower than the amount you'll get with a company like ours. You won't have to wait for it, but you'll get less money.

That changes if you have a device that won't work at all. If you're working with a company that hopes to sell your phone again, a broken piece is far from appealing. But since ecoATM works with repair shops, the company is willing to take more risks in their purchases. That could be a great deal for you if you have a box of nonfunctional phones at home.

If the company can't buy your phone, you also have the option to recycle it. Since many cities charge a fee for electronics recycling, this could be a good way to save money on something that doesn't work.


Where Can You Find a Kiosk?


The ecoATM business model is built on convenience. The company needs many customers to sell their phones every day, and they work hard to make that a reality.

You can head to the company's website and use the "Find a Kiosk" feature to find one near you. Before you walk out of the door, remember to:

  • Charge the battery. The machine needs to walk your phone through a few simple steps. If you can't turn your phone on, the machine might assume it's broken and give you less money.
  • Back up your data. Download those photos you can't live without and transfer your contacts to your new phone. You won't have access to your device once you sell it.
  • Remove your SIM card. Some phones don't have these little bits of memory embedded within them, but if yours does, you'll need to keep it. Open the slot, slide the card out, and store it in a safe place.
  • Reset your phone. Take your phone back to factory settings. This ensures you're not sharing any personal information with the next owner of your phone.
  • Clean the surface. The ecoATM machines scan the surface of your phone for defects. Dirt, fingerprints, and lint can all look like damage. Use a gentle cloth to wipe away any debris.

Once you arrive at the kiosk, it should take just a few moments to complete the sale, and if you accept the price, you're paid in cash. But if you're not happy with the number that flashes on the screen, you have options.

Your sale isn't complete until you accept the price, sign paperwork, and give away your fingerprint. Cancel the transaction, and you'll have your phone back in your hands. Don't be afraid to walk away if something doesn't seem right to you.

And if you're not happy with the price, why not look for someone else who can give you a better value? It's your money and your phone that you worked hard to pay for. Don't settle for less than you deserve. Keep looking until you find the price that's right for you.


Discarded Phones, Computers, and Electronics Behind World's Fastest Growing Waste Problem. (December 2017). The Telegraph.

How EcoATM Became San Diego's Hottest Startup Deal, if I Say So Myself. (February 2010). Exome.

An ATM That Takes Your Devices for Cash On the Spot. (Jan 2015). CNBC.

Frequently Asked Questions. EcoATM.

Locations. EcoATM.

EcoATM. Google Play.

Man Arrested After Selling Stolen iPhone at EcoATM Kiosk. (October 2014). The Spokesman-Review.

How Much Will EcoATM Machine Give Me for Every iPhone 2G, 3G, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, X, X Max? (March 2019). YouTube.