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Tokyo 2020 Olympic medals could be made of recycled e-waste

Home electronics, personal mobile devices, and more offer a gold (and silver, and bronze) mine

Though Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe dressed as Super Mario was the buzzed-about highlight of the Closing Ceremony at the 2016 Rio Olympics last Sunday, news of the 2020 Olympic medals extends beyond the playfulness of that much-discussed moment: Word has it that recycled e-waste may be used for the medals at the 2020 Games.

According to Nikkei Asian Review, the organizers of the 2020 Games are considering e-waste a mine of sorts for the medals issued in Tokyo: "The amount of precious metals recovered from discarded small consumer electronics in Japan in 2014 included 143 kilograms of gold, 1,566 kilograms of silver, and 1,112 tons of copper," of which bronze is an alloy, writes the Review. This surpasses the amount of each metal used for the medals bestowed at the London Olympics in 2012. According to the Review, host nations typically ask mining companies to donate what they need.

While this is a sustainable option, there are some roadblocks in the process, including the fact that "much of the metal that is recovered is already being reused to make new electronics," reports the Review. At least one Japanese recycled-home-appliance business owner proposes having the private sector establish a collection system for electronic waste.

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