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Going for gold in Tokyo will be green, thanks to medals made of e-waste

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Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike(left) with IOC President Thomas Bach(right)

IOC/Ian Jones

The Rio Olympics may have just ended, but it’s never too early to start training for the 2020 Games in Tokyo. And now that there may be some historical medals up for grabs, the next Summer Olympics may be the most interesting to date. The prizes of the upcoming Games may just be made from e-waste — the gold, silver, and bronze that is recycled from discarded smartphones and other consumer electronics.

Apparently, we’ve thrown away enough devices to actually produce all the medals needed for the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, said a group of Olympic organizers, government officials, and company leaders who first floated this notion back in June.

As the Nikkei Asian Review reports, the gold and silver found in Japan’s stockpile of discarded electronics comprise 16 percent and 22 percent, respectively, of the world’s supply. In 2014, the nation recovered a whopping 143 kilograms of gold, 1,566 kilograms of silver, and 1,112 tons of copper from e-waste. And given that the medals athletes won in 2012 were made using just 9.6 kilograms of gold, 1,210 kilograms of silver, and 700 kilograms of copper, it seems that Japan will have more than enough of these metals to make their medals.

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“In order for all Japanese people to participate in the Tokyo Olympics, we are asking companies to propose a concrete collection proposal and would like to work with the Olympic organizing committee to realize the proposal,” Yuko Sakita, of the NGO Genki Net for Creating a Sustainable Society, told the Nikkei. After all, while Japan has quickly and decidedly established itself as a technology hub, it has yet to find an efficient system by which to collect unwanted electronic. Around 650,000 tons of such devices are estimated to be tossed every year, but less than 100,000 tons is collected for recycling.

By the next four years might change that for good.

So in 2020, going for gold is going to look pretty green.