iReTron, run by teen, will buy used gadgets
15-year-old Jason Li, winner of the "Next Teen Tycoon" video contest, won $4,000 and a trip to the 2012 TEDxTeen conference in New York. Read more about him below.
The gadgets gathering dust in an old drawer could be worth something: Up to $47 for a classic iPod, $88 for a Blackberry Torch or $97 for a Kindle.
That's the pitch from iReTron, a new website created by a 15-year-old high school sophomore to help people get rid of their old electronics.
Los Gatos teenager Jason Li started iReTron in July after learning about the hazards of electronic waste in his freshman world geography class.
People inevitably want to upgrade to the shiny new gadget, said Li. Through iReTron, they can do so without too much hassle.
"Nobody loses anything," he said. "It is fitting for the society we live in. A lot of people out there have smart phones. People upgrade all the time. Everyone is gaining. That's the best part of it."
IReTron joins a growing number of websites such as Gazelle and NextWorth that purchase used electronics, fix them up and resell them on eBay and elsewhere. Consumers receive a quote from the website for their device, ship it and are paid once their item has been inspected.
"It's better for the environment because it's one less cell phone in the dumps," said Li, who runs the business out of his family's garage. "By extending the lifetime of your electronics, it helps you and the other person, and it helps the environment."
Such services are emerging as people acquire - and discard - more and more electronics. The average U.S. family spends $1,179 on electronics every year, from new flat-panel televisions to the new iPad, according to the Consumer Electronics Association.
And while some are passed on to friends and family, many people toss their old gadgets. An estimated 152 million mobile devices were trashed or recycled in 2010, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. From DVD players to computer monitors, the United States produced 2.4 million tons of electronics waste in 2010.
People are becoming more aware that they can sell their not-too-old electronics online, said Jeff Trachsel, chief marketing officer for NextWorth, which also has a partnership with Target to take back gadgets at its stores nationwide.
"When you buy a new car, you figure out how much you can get for your old car," he said. "We're applying that same model to consumer electronics purchases. We think it's a pretty powerful idea."
But Jim Puckett, executive director of Basel Action Network, a nonprofit group battling toxic waste around the globe, said that consumers should be cautious about sites that purchase their old electronics. Though the websites claim to refurbish and resell them, many gadgets still end up in landfills overseas, he said.
The websites keep the ones that have the best resale rates and ship the rest to offshore centers. Though the gadgets may be refurbished there, even then they may be repaired so badly that they pose health risks.
The group has been negotiating with several websites, asking them to pledge to recycle and refurbish electronics responsibly. But so far, "no company is willing to step up," said Puckett.
"It's very lucrative," he said. "They're using the words 'recycling' and 're-use,' but they're really into it for profit."
Li said the one thing he doesn't want is for electronics to end up overseas. Gadgets he can't sell are donated to charities, and those beyond repair are dropped off at certified recycling centers. Because the 15-year-old hasn't learned to drive yet, his father, a computer engineer, chauffeurs him.
Li juggles iReTron in between honors courses at Saratoga High School, wrestling and judo practice, piano, and speech and debate club. His parents gave him the funds to start the company and his friends have helped him promote the website at fairs and events and online. He also taps a network of technicians who repair the phones for him, replacing cracked screens or fixing water damage.
"I don't play video games," he said about finding the time to run iReTron. "I never got into it, so it saves me a lot of time."
In March, Li won the "Next Teen Tycoon" video contest, held by San Francisco marketing firm VerticalResponse. He picked up $4,000 to expand his business and a trip to the 2012 TEDxTeen conference in New York.
The company has not yet broken even, but Li said that he's been able to turn a profit on each transaction, about 600 to 700 of them so far. And he remains ambitious.
"We want to expand our company into a multimillion-dollar company," he said.
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