Japan will take its turn as host of the Olympic games in 2020 and already it is making game-changing plans, at least, game-changing for the environment. The 2020 Olympic medals will be made from discarded smartphones and other consumer electronics.
The Tokyo Olympics are still four whole years away but host nation Japan is already making plans, as should be. One of such plans, according to the Nikkei Asian Review is to have Japanese authorities sourcing the gold, silver, and bronze needed to make the 2020 Olympic medals by tapping the country’s ‘urban mine’.
Japan’s urban mine refers to the country’s millions of discarded smartphones and other small consumer electronics. It is typical for host countries to request donations from mining companies to make up the necessary metal required to make the medals.
The gold and silver recovered from small consumer electronics in Japan has, however, been estimated as equivalent to 16% and 22% of the world’s total reserves according to statistics shared by Nikkei.
This is partly due to a 2009 Japanese law which made it mandatory to recycle home appliances like air conditioners, TVs, personal computers, washing machines, refrigerators and mobile phones.
The country, therefore, became an early adopter in the development and enforcement of a legal mechanism for e-waste. A 2014 United Nations University report shows that the country still has a long way to go.
The report showed that in 2013, Japan’s nearly 128 million strong population unloaded 17.3 kilograms of electronic waste per person, and about 556,000 tons of e-waste were collected and treated in Japan. That amount made up only 24% of all e-waste estimated generated that year.
It is still doubtful, however, because of the high demand for silver that Japan will be able to recycle enough silver to fashion 2020 Olympic medals in time for the games, but whatever amount they are able to conscientiously recycle will be a great help to the environment.
The Rio Olympic medals were also recycled from waste materials. Thirty percent of the silver used to make both the gold and silver medals, came from leftover mirrors, solder and X-ray plates. Bronze medals were made with copper waste from the national mint, and even the ribbons were crafted from recycled plastic.