TOKYO — As the Olympic torch is snuffed out in Rio, the Japanese are already getting a jump preparing for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
The nation is looking to a new source for the materials to make the medals: electronics.
Japanese officials are asking citizens to donate their old electronics to create the medals, according to Nikkei Asian Review.
“We need a system that makes it easy for consumers to turn in used consumer electronics,” said Takeshi Kuroda, president of ReNet Japan Group, a company that purchases and sells used home appliances.
It might seem like a stretch at first, but it makes sense. Our smartphones contain gold, silver, and copper, all of which are used to create Olympic medals. Both gold and silver medals are 92.5% silver. Bronze is an alloy of copper and usually tin.
One phone contains small amounts, but when you scale that up to all the old electronics across the entire nation of Japan, you’re looking at a sizable chunk of the world’s precious metals.
It is estimated that 16 percent of the world’s gold and 22 percent on the world’s silver is currently sitting inside gadgets in Japan. This collection of e-waste is sometimes referred to as an “urban mine.”
So how much material does it take to make an entire Olympic Games’ worth of medals?
The London games used 21 lbs. of gold; 2,667.5 lbs. of silver; and 1,543.2 lbs. of copper to make their medals. By comparison, Japan discards 650,000 tons of small electronics and home appliances every year. That came to 315 lbs. of gold; 3,452 lbs. of silver; and 1,112 tons of copper through electronics in 2014 alone.
The Olympic effort’s biggest hurdle (pun intended): Japan’s recycled minerals go back into making new electronic devices, so officials are hoping that by raising public awareness, the amount of e-waste collected will increase.
Kuroda is devising a plan for a collection system created by the private sector.
“Central and local governments should be in charge of publicizing such private services,” Kuroda told Nikkei. “If this public-private cooperation progresses, the collection of electronic waste should also progress.”