It’s still four years away, but Tokyo is already dominating its upcoming Olympic Games.
The host country may make all of its future Olympic medals out of gold, silver and bronze found in old cell phones and other used electronics devices, according to Nikkei Asian Review.
The reality is that these awards don’t require that much metal, and Japan actually has enough e-waste to produce them. A gold medal in Rio, for example, was made of about 1 pound of silver 0.01 pounds of gold, according to NBC Montana.
In 2014, Japan was able to recover about 3,452 pounds of silver from small consumer electronics that had been tossed, according to Nikkei. Using discarded electronics will help keep these toxic products out of landfills.
Electronics aren’t biodegradable, and many contain noxious materials. And while they can be recycled, they’re often just illegally sent off to developing countries to deteriorate in landfills, waterways or public spaces, The Huffington Post reported in May.
Determined to break the cycle, nonprofit GENKI Net for Creating a Sustainable Society organized a meeting in June for government leaders, event organizers and tech companies in Tokyo to begin formulating a plan for crafting the eco-friendly medals.
GENKI’s mission is to create a zero-waste society by developing partnerships with citizens, businesses and government leaders.
In Japan, about 650,000 tons of small electronics and electric home appliances are thrown out every year but very little of that is recycled. According to Nikkei, about less than 100,000 tons is collected for recycling.
Now it’s just up to the groups involved to devise a way to effectively collect old electronics so they can be repurposed for the upcoming games.
The problems surrounding e-waste is only going to become more concerning as the world’s reliance on such technology grows, experts point out.
In 2014, there was about 46 million tons of e-waste from discarded phones, computer screen and other electronics, according to a report from the United Nations in Japan.
Advocates say part of the issue is a lack of awareness surrounding the problem.
“If people would be more conscious about where their electronic trash would finish and in which way they are affecting others, poorest peoples’ lives, I think they would act more carefully,” photographer Valentino Bellini, whose involved in an e-waste campaign, told The Huffington Post last year.