The Rio Games may have just ended, but Tokyo is already gearing up for the 2020 Olympics – and organizers want to source materials for the gold, silver, and bronze medals from discarded smartphones and other electronics. The country’s e-waste stream could certainly provide enough precious metals to cover the demand; the problem lies with collecting the discarded devices from the public.
In 2014 Japan recovered 143 kg of gold, 1,566 kg of silver and 1,112 tons of copper – an essential component in bronze – from small, discarded electronics, according to Nikkei Asian Review. Judging from London’s 2012 Olympics, only 9.6kg of gold, 1,210kg of silver and 700kg of copper were needed to make all the winning medals. Usually cities hosting the games ask mines to donate the materials, but Japan may not have to go that route.
The plan does face some challenges, however – Japan has not fully implemented a system for collecting discarded consumer electronics, and a 2013 law requiring the recycling of home appliances was not as effective as lawmakers hoped. Recycled precious materials are also commonly used to produce new electronic devices, with silver being in especially high demand.
A meeting was held on June 10 where Tokyo Olympics officials met with government members and representatives from a mobile phone company, precious metals company, and recycling companies. Proposals are being considered regarding how to increase public awareness of recycling programs and how to streamline the collection process in time for the Games’ arrival in Tokyo.