One person’s e-waste will become another’s crowning achievement, as medals for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games will feature metals reclaimed from discarded electronic devices.
Before the Summer Games, officials are looking to collect discarded electronics to extract as much as 8 tons of metal, including 40 kilograms of gold, for 5,000 medals.
What’s in your phone?
Your phones — and most electronic devices — contain trace amounts of precious metals.
In most gold mines, 1 ton of ore typically yields a gram of gold. But 1 gram of gold can be obtained from the guts of about 35–40 smartphones, with the right techniques.
Recycling companies typically purchase tons of e-waste and process it into valuable metals.
“Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic medals will be made out of people’s thoughts and appreciation for avoiding waste,” said gymnast Kohei Uchimura of Japan, a three-time gold medalist. “I think there is an important message in this for future generations.”
Tokyo’s awards aren’t the only ones to shine with sustainability. Medals for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro featured silver scraped from mirrors and ribbons woven with fabric from recycled bottles.
American Ashton Eaton, who won gold in the decathlon in Rio 2016 and London 2012, is a big fan of recycling: “The awesomeness of this medal project makes me want to come out of retirement and compete for one,” he said.
The next Summer Games will need to produce extra medals for new sports. Look for surfing, karate and skateboarding to debut in Tokyo.