Sunday, May 19, 2019

Japan is making Olympic medals out of old smartphones

From: Julie T.
Sent: May 17, 2019
To: undisclosed recipients
Subject: Fw: Japan is making Olympic medals out of old smartphones


When medalists at the upcoming 2020 summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan step on to the podium to claim their prize, the medals will not only be a representation of their sporting prowess, but also a symbol of environmental sustainability. This is because, for both the Olympics and Paralympics events, organizers are planning to design all the bronze, silver, and gold medals out of just used electronics. The aim to send out this strong message about environmental conservation and how e-waste can be effectively utilized has gotten all the country involved. Almost 90% of the municipal authorities have thrown their weight behind this noble initiative by aiding in collections.

The Japanese Olympics Committee started collecting used and discarded electronics, including smartphones, laptops, and digital camera as early as April 2017. The scheme has proven to be a huge success, seeing almost 47, 488 tons of used devices being collected by authorities as of October 2018. So far, the quantity threshold for the bronze medals has been surpassed and the goal to finish the silver and gold medal collection is totally in sight. This is to say that the whole collection process can be concluded by the end of March.

By considering the number of cell phones gathered, you’ll be amazed by just how huge the waste is. More than a million smartphones were collected in a duration of just about 18 months, and this can be credited to the partnership with NTT DOCOMO. The largest telephony operator in the country allowed smartphone users to drop off their old phones at their locations throughout the country, which went a long way to ensure the project’s success.

After being taken apart and sorted, the tiny pieces of electronics were taken through a smelting process to take out all the bronze, silver, and gold elements. To be able to create all the needed medals, it will mean that 4,100kg of silver, 30.3kg of gold, and 2,700kg of bronze is extracted from the collected electronics. This achievement at the 2020 Olympics will definitely be a welcome step up from the 2016 Rio Olympics, which featured silver and bronze medals that comprised 30% recycled material.

This Japanese initiative has done a good job of taking the universal fight against e-waste to a multinational platform. Going by a study on GLOBAL E-WASTE Monitra carried out by the United Nations University, 44.7 million metric tons in e-waste was generated in 2016. A meager 20% of this waste ended up getting recycled. The unfortunate reality is that this figure is bound to significantly increase in the coming days, with a projected figure of 52.2 million metric tons expected by 2021. So although the Tokyo Olympics dignified initiative might be a far cry from what is truly needed in the fight against e-waste, it is no doubt a wonderful first step towards portraying to the public the part they can play, with the right amount of knowledge on the subject.

The Japanese Olympic Committee kickstarted this drive in April 2017, when they began collecting old and discarded electronics for the purpose of creating the 2020 Olympics medals out of e-waste.

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