Medals that will be used in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games will be made from recycled mobile phones.
Two tonnes of gold, silver and bronze is required for the 5,000 medals. The metals will be sourced from old phones and small appliances.
Tokyo 2020 sports director Koji Murofushi told BBC Sport that the project hopes to promote sustainability and reduce the cost of making the medals.
E-waste recycling using reverse logistics
Discarded consumer electronics such as smartphones and tablets contain small amounts of precious and rare earth metals. This includes platinum, palladium, gold, silver, lithium, cobalt and nickel.
In the case of re-using metals, a process of reverse logistics is gaining popularity. Reverse logistics has the potential to become a new buzz word in the recycling community as its process can generate a generous income from reducing waste, to maximising resources and generating income from new products.
According to online journal, Environmental Leader, the reverse logistics process requires the manufacturer to encourage the product’s return — either for repair or resale, or, if those scenarios aren’t viable, then for recycling and reuse of its parts in future products — at the end of the product’s life.
In the case of the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic medals, discarded electronics and industrial scraps will be collected or bought by recycling companies and chemical processes will be used to separate the different metals which will be used to mould the gold, silver and bronze medals.
Why the idea was suggested
Murofushi said that “a project that allows the people of Japan to take part in creating the medals is really good”, as the earth has a limited amount of resources, so recycling forces people to think about the environment.
The idea was first proposed by Japan’s Olympic organising committee in 2016 and was suggested because the country lacks its own mineral resources. Traditionally, the metal used to make medals is obtained from mining firms.
Collection boxes will be made available in office buildings and telecommunications stores from April this year, and will remain there until the required amount of metal has been collected. The public will be encouraged to donate their old or unused phones and small appliances.