eRecyclingCorps Takes a Bite out of Phone E-Waste with New Funding

The EPA estimates that there are roughly 130 million mobile phones in the U.S. that will be discarded this year. And that number is only likely to pick up speed as people upgrade phones more quickly.

We've reported on a couple of notable, recent efforts to reduce the mountain of consumer e-waste here in the U.S., including Best Buy's free e-waste takeback and eBay's Instant Sale program.

While both of those programs are already making a dent, there is obviously a big market to slice up. And a three-year-old startup eRecyclingCorps thinks it has a solution -- and has just landed some major funding to try and scale it.

The company, founded by former CEOs from Radio Shack and Sprint, is announcing this morning that it has secured $35 million in financing from Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers to expand on its work.

eRecyclingCorps' business model is simple: Make recycling a cellphone a no-brainer.

"We wanted to make it easy and convenient for customers, so we put it where people go to buy phones," explained David Edmonson, former CEO of Radio Shack and current CEO of ERC, in a phone interview. "Just like how people buy cars -- you drive in with one car and you drive out with the other."

The idea is simple, but the execution has been a major undertaking. ERC has built a system that incorporates into cell phone retailers' point-of-sale (POS) systems to let individual employees ask each customer if they have an old phone they'd like to trade in. The employee then takes quick stock of the condition of the phone and offers a rebate.

"We basically move products that would normally [wouldn't get returned] ... people would buy one device and leave with two, and the value would deteriorate down to nothing and make its way into the solid waste stream," Edmondson said. "Instead, we've moved things from being e-waste to being a working asset."

The phones are processed in the U.S., and then either recycled (if they're not salvageable), or refurbished and sold, generally overseas, where the lifespan of mobile phones is significantly longer.

The company currently has established partnerships with Sprint and Verizon, with a presence in 3,000 Sprint stores and more than 500 Verizon stores. And in the wake of the Kleiner Perkins investment, ERC will continue to expand its takeback efforts.

And, of course, there is plenty of room to grow. Edmonson said that ERC has collected 2 million devices during the first 22 months of its Sprint partnership -- a drop in the bucket of the the 250 million or so phones that got discarded, per the EPA's estimates, in that same timeframe.

[This article was corrected to update the number of stores that ERC has partnered with Sprint and Verizon for phone takebacks.]

Mobile phones photo via Shutterstock.