In the future EcoATM is envisioning, you’ll be able to recycle your old cell phone for cash — or donate it to charity — via a kiosk by your grocery store or gas station. The San Diego startup said today it has raised $14.4 million in a first round of funding.

EcoATM makes an automated kiosk that uses artificial intelligence, electronic diagnostics and advanced machine vision to buy back electronics from consumers for cash or store credit. You place your phone in the kiosk and connect it to a cable, and the machine figures out what kind of phone it is and how much damage there is to it, then makes you an offer. It can also remove your personal data and automatically factor in things like trade-in and trade-up promotions associated with your old phone. (See the video below for how it works). The company can also recycle used laptops and iPods. It has a handful of trial locations that it says have recycled tens of thousands of devices over the past year and paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars in return for recycling.

The funding round announced today was led by Claremont Creek Ventures and Coinstar, the maker of the coin-counting kiosks that let you convert your spare change into iTunes and Starbucks gift certificates. Silicon Valley Bank will also provide “a significant amount” of venture debt to the company, EcoATM said in a statement. The company says the funds will go towards commercialization of the product and launching it.

Sustainability is typically not a sector you see a lot of venture capital going into, but there are exceptions, and EcoATM’s technology is interesting and based on a retail strategy that has worked for the likes of Coinstar and DVD-rental kiosk company Redbox. Other startups have recently emerged in the realm of recycling (RecycleMatch), bartering (TriBarter) and sharing (Zipcar).

EcoATM and its backers sees potentially big business in it. They cite a report from the Consumer Electronics Association that found U.S. consumers collectively buy about 500 million new electronic gadgets each year and that the average U.S. household now owns 26 different consumer electronic devices.

“EcoATM provides tons of value to the consumer by giving them cash for their digital clunkers and simultaneously managing the recycling in a very earth-friendly way,” said Randy Hawks, managing director of Claremont Creek Ventures in a statement. “They also have a smart business model. That’s why we invested.”

[Image via Flickr/AngelaShupe.com]