Tokyo 2020 is on track to create Olympic medals with recycled electronics

“Congratulations, you’re one of the most elite athletes to have ever graced planet Earth. Here’s a broken iPhone 4s and part of an old Game Boy Advance for your troubles.”

OK, so that’s not exactly the sales pitch that the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, aka Tokyo 2020, is probably going for — but it’s not far from the truth, either. And that’s a good thing.

Announced on Friday, February 8, the brains behind next year’s Summer Olympics revealed that they are on target to be able to forge all winning athletes’ medals from recycled electronics waste, consisting of discarded and obsolete electronic devices. This includes smartphones, digital cameras, handheld games consoles, and laptops.

The project to collect ewaste for the purpose was launched in Japan in April 2017, with thousands of collection centers established across the country. In all, some 47,488 tons of discarded devices have been collected by municipal authorities in Japan, in addition to more than 5 million used cell phones. By June 2018, the target amount of metal necessary for creating the Olympics bronze medals had already been gathered. By October 2018, so too had 93.7 percent of the necessary gold and 85.4 percent of silver. That puts the project firmly on track to achieve its goal.

Recycling electronics waste into Olympic medals isn’t going to solve the problem completely, of course. Other bolder initiatives will need to be launched to stop so many landfill-bound gadgets being disposed of every year to begin with. This could take the form of everything from legislation to insist on repairable devices to a more unorthodox concept such as Rice University’s research into the possibility of biodegradable, eco-friendly wooden electronics capable of decomposing once they are disposed of.

Nonetheless, this is a great attention-grabbing initiative that highlights the importance of electronics waste recycling, and shows that great things can be achieved with the proper public efforts. It’s pretty fitting, too: Shouldn’t the Olympic Games be about showing off humankind at its very best? We can’t think of too many better ways to do that.

The Tokyo 2020 medals will be publicly unveiled in the middle of 2019. You can color us excited to see them!

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