2020 Summer Olympics

Japan wants old phones to make Tokyo 2020 Olympics medals

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 November, 2016, 4:14pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 November, 2016, 10:40pm

Organisers of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games and Paralympics are planning a scavenger hunt for the two tonnes of precious medals required for the winners’ medals.

The organising committee behind the 2020 Games - which has come under fire from Japanese taxpayers concerned at the soaring costs of hosting the world’s largest sporting event - said it intends to work with companies to collect discarded electronic devices and to “mine” them for gold, silver and bronze.

An estimated 650,000 tonnes of electronics are discarded every year in Japan, ranging from digital wristwatches to flat-screen televisions or refrigerators. And while previously they may simply have been dumped in landfills, those devices are now regarded as “urban mines” containing thousands of tonnes of gold, silver, copper, iron and other metals that can be salvaged, recycled and re-purposed.

According to a study by the Japanese National Institute for Materials Science, Japan uses the highest amount of metal resources in electrical appliances in the world, outstripping the natural metal reserves of many mineral-producing countries.

The NIMS report estimated that there are some 6,800 tonnes of gold in Japan, worth an estimated Y20 trillion (HK$1.47 trillion) and accounting for 16 per cent of the total reserves in the world’s mines. Similarly, there are around 60,000 tonnes of silver here, around 23 per cent of the world’s reserves, and 1,700 tonnes of iridium - more than 60 per cent of the world’s reserves.

By these calculations, Japan has more gold than South Africa and more silver, iridium and lead than any other single nation.

Over three months from late 2009, a government-run “urban mining” campaign recovered 22kg of gold from 567,000 discarded mobile phones, along with 79kg of silver, 5,670kg of copper and 2kg of palladium. The government estimates that some 200 million unused cell phones are taking up space in Japanese homes and has set the nation the target of achieving a rate of 50 per cent self-sufficiency in rare metals by 2030.

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The initiative was announced in Tokyo on Wednesday by Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, who said: “These medals will be a permanent reminder to the Olympic champions of 2020 of their achievements.

“It’s good to see that they will also send a strong message of sustainability around the world, in line with the Olympic Agenda 2020.”

It is not clear with the costs involved in recycling the precious metals will enable the organisers to save money on a sporting extravaganza - the budget for which could hit $30 billion, fully four times the initial estimate and nearly three times the cost of the 2012 London Olympic Games.