Japan wants citizens to donate their old phone to make 2020 Olympics medals

Precious metals for winning medals

Japan is looking to recycle old technology, including smartphones, to create Olympic medals for Tokyo 2020.

The report comes from Japanese website Nikkei, which says organizers of the next Olympic Games would like gold, silver and bronze medals to be sourced purely from donated electronics.

The idea isn't as far-fetched as it sounds: our smartphones contain the gold, silver and copper that can be recycled for use in new electronics, albeit in small amounts. But all those small amounts add up, and Japan is looking to use those metals to make the most iconic medals in sport.

A new mine

It'll mean the country won't need to mine new metals, instead using what's referred to as Japan's 'urban mine' of discarded consumer tech. It's estimated that 16% of the world's gold and 22% of the planet's silver is currently sitting inside tech all over Japan.

Games organizers are asking Japanese firms to pitch ideas for recycling schemes to help encourage citizens to donate. If the scheme is successful it would mean the usual practice of getting precious material mines to donate the metal for the medals would cease, or at least be dramatically reduced.

The London Olympic games used 9.6kg of gold, 1,210kg of silver and 700kg of copper (the main ingredient used when making bronze) to make its medals in 2012. In 2014, Japan discarded 143kg of gold, 1,566kg of silver and 1,112 tons of copper through electronics.

The reason so much silver is needed is that the gold medals are made up of that material too, with gold added into the mix to create the distinction. Similarly, tin is used in the bronze medals, so multiple materials will need to be sourced to create fully recycled medals.

And knowing that part of your old smartphone has become one of the most iconic medals in sport may be enough to persuade people to donate to the cause.

However, there's one slight issue: currently, Japan's recycled precious materials are used to make new electronic devices, and it's hard to see the nation's citizens foregoing a new Blu-ray player or smartphone upgrade in order to help out.

Via Engadget