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Japan Will Make Medals Out Of Recycled Smartphones for 2020 Olympics

Aug 24, 2016 04:58 AM EDT
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Japan plans to recycle discarded electronics to create Olympic medals for Tokyo 2020.

Organizers of the next Olympic Games, which will be held in Tokyo, will tap the country's "urban mine," which is made up of millions of discarded smartphones and other consumer devices, to make gold, silver and bronze medals, Nikkei Asian Review reports.

Japan's e-waste "mine" is equivalent to 16 percent of the world's gold and 22 percent of the world's silver. In June 2010, Olympic organizers, together with Japanese government officials, mobile phone company executives, a metal company and recycling organizations, had discussed the idea of sourcing recycled electronics from this mine in creating medals with an eye towards "a sustainable future."

The London Olympic Games in 2012 used 9.6 kg of gold, 1,210 kg of silver and 700 kg of copper to make their medals. In 2014, Japan has recovered 143 kg of gold, 1,566 kg of silver and 1,112 tons of copper from discarded small consumer electronics.

However, Japan has not yet developed a system for collecting discarded electronics. About 650,000 tons of small electronics and electric home appliances are discarded in Japan every year, but only less than 100,000 tons are collected under a system based on the small appliance recycling law, which was implemented in 2013. Japan's municipalities required by the Environment Ministry to collect at least 1kg of small consumer electronics per person a year, but many are still falling short of gathering even 100 grams per person.

Moreover, Japan's recycled precious metals are also being reused to create new electronic devices, silver being the most in demand.

"A collection system should be created by the private sector, and central and local governments should be in charge of publicizing such private services," Takeshi Kuroda, president of ReNet Japan Group, which works together with Olympic Games organizers to make medals from e-waste, said in a statement.

"If this public-private cooperation progresses, the collection of electronic waste should also progress."

Organizers are also asking Japanese companies to pitch ideas for recycling schemes to encourage citizens to donate their discarded electronics.

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