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Medals for Tokyo’s 2020 Olympics will be made of recycled smartphones

Why it matters to you

It's a great reminder to have a rummage through your closet and recycle any long-forgotten tech gadgets.

Winning athletes at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will be presented with medals made from metals recovered from discarded smartphones.

The idea was first mooted last summer as a way to deal with all the electronic waste created by the tech-loving country. Or, as Japan’s three-time Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast Kohei Uchimura put it this week: “Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic medals will be made out of people’s thoughts and appreciation for avoiding waste. I think there is an important message in this for future generations.”

Keen to move ahead with the plan, the organizing committee announced Wednesday the official launch of a campaign to encourage people to recycle their old smartphones so they can make medals using the metals inside the devices. Many tech gadgets contain small amounts of precious and rare earth metals such as gold, silver, platinum, and nickel.

Partnering with Japanese cellular giant NTT Docomo and the Japan Environmental Sanitation Center, the aim is to gather at least eight tons of metal from discarded mobile phones, the Japan Times reported, with “millions” of mobile devices needed in order to gather enough material for the 5,000 medals due to be presented at the sporting extravaganza.

While a number of recent Olympics used recycled e-waste for medals, Tokyo 2020 claims it will be the first where all of the gold medals are made entirely with recovered metal.

To make it as easy as possible for people to offload their old devices, the organizers are installing drop-off points at NTT Docmo’s nationwide network of more than 2,400 stores, among other places.

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“A project that allows the people of Japan to take part in creating the medals is really good,” Tokyo 2020 sports director Koji Murofushi said. “There’s a limit on the resources of our earth, so recycling these things will make us think about the environment.”

Japan itself doesn’t have many natural resources to speak of, though the gold and silver found inside its consumer electronics “is equivalent to 16 percent and 22 percent of the world’s total reserves, respectively — surpassing the reserves of any natural resources-abundant nation,” Nikkei noted in a report last year.

And with Japanese consumers’ love affair with tech showing no signs of easing up, it shouldn’t take long for the 2020 Olympics’ e-waste initiative to hit its target.