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How Your Old Cellphone Could End Up as an Olympic Medal

Rio 2016 U.S. men's basketball vs. SerbiaRio 2016 U.S. men's basketball vs. Serbia
NBA star Kevin Durant takes a selfie with fans and his gold medal after his team won on Sunday.Photograph by Mark Reis — Colorado Springs Gazette/TNS via Getty Images

That old smartphone you’re carrying could become a part of Olympic history in four years if Tokyo Games organizers have their way.

Administrators for Japan’s 2020 Olympics today announced plans to use recycled smartphone metals—bronze, silver, and gold—to make the next generation of Olympic medals, the Nikkei Asian Review reports.

The goal of the initiative is to create e-waste awareness in Japan, calling attention to the estimated 650,000 tons of old electronics consumers and companies throw away every year.

The idea was introduced June 10 at a meeting involving Tokyo’s Olympic and Paralympic organizing committee, the Ministry of the Environment and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.

Several Japanese recycling and tech companies—including mobile phone operator NTT DoCoMo, precious metals producer Tanaka Kikinzoku Kogyo, and online book and DVD stores operator ReNet Japan—are pushing for their country to follow through on the campaign.


“We need a system that makes it easy for consumers to turn in used consumer electronics,” ReNet President Takeshi Kuroda told Nikkei Asian Review. “A collection system should be created by the private sector, and central and local governments should be in charge of publicizing such private services.”

Ironically, Japan doesn’t produce a lot of natural resources even though its gold and silver reserves account for a respective 16% and 22% of the minerals used in small electronics, according to the Nikkei Asian Review.

“In order for all Japanese people to participate in the Tokyo Olympics,” Kuroda added, “we are asking companies to propose a concrete collection proposal and would like to work with the Olympic organizing committee to realize the proposal.”

Approximately 9.6 kg of gold, 1,210 kg of silver and 700 kg of copper—the primary component of bronze—were used to produce medals for the 2012 Olympic games in London, the Nikkei Asian Review reports.