UPDATE: Organizers of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games have officially decided to use e-waste to manufacture the 5,000 medals that athletes will be competing for, as reported by The Japan Times.
The Tokyo organizing committee is partnering with telecommunications company NTT Docomo and the Japan Environmental Sanitation Center in an effort to collect up to 8 tons of metal from devices. Starting in April, collection boxes will be placed in more than 2,400 NTT Docomo stores throughout the country and in multiple office buildings. Organizers estimates that millions of devices will be needed and they will continue collections for as long as necessary to hit the target.
While previous Olympic Games have used recycled content in their medals, including the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, this will be the first time that e-waste has been used as a source. If enough material can be collected, the gold medals will be made from 100% recycled content.
- Organizers of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics want to create the athletes' medals out of e-waste. Nonprofit organization Genki Net for Creating a Sustainable Society brought together government officials and industry executives to discuss the idea in June, as reported by Nikkei.
- The 2012 London Olympics used 9.6 kilograms of gold, 1,210 kg of silver and 700 kg of copper (the main component of bronze). In 2014, 143 kg of gold, 1,566 kg of silver and 1,112 tons of copper were recovered from small consumer electronics in Japan.
- Japan's "urban mine" of small consumer electronics reportedly accounts for 16% of the world's gold and 22% of its silver. Though much of that still isn't recovered and the material that is ends up being used in new electronics.
Olympic cities often ask mining companies to provide the necessary metal so this would be an interesting change for a city that has already previewed many technological innovations for the 2020 games. The challenge will be ramping up the country's recovery system, which is currently collecting an estimated 100,000 of the 650,000 tons of consumer electronics being discarded every year. Municipalities are asked to collect a target 1 kg of consumer electronics per person each year, though many are collecting closer to 100 grams per person.
The idea of manufacturers taking more responsibility for the recycling of their products is often discussed as a potential solution for e-waste challenges. A recent Greenpeace East Asia survey found that nearly half of the respondents thought phone manufacturers in particular should be more responsible for making products recyclable.