Tokyo Olympic chiefs call on public to recycle smartphones to make medals

Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic organizers are urging people living in Japan to help make the medals for the games by donating their discarded smartphones for recycling.

The organizing committee announced Wednesday that it has teamed up with telecommunications giant NTT Docomo and the Japan Environmental Sanitation Center to launch a massive collection drive starting from April, and hopes to collect up to 8 tons of metal from obsolete electronic devices.

“Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic medals will be made out of people’s thoughts and appreciation for avoiding waste,” said three-time Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast Kohei Uchimura. “I think there is an important message in this for future generations.”

Collection boxes will be installed in more than 2,400 NTT Docomo stores throughout Japan and an as-yet undecided number of public offices.

The organizing committee estimates that “millions” of smartphones will be needed to hit the 8-ton target, which will be reduced to 2 tons through the production process — enough to manufacture 5,000 medals. Collection will stop when the target has been reached.

“The weight of a medal around your neck is always a good weight,” said American former decathlete Ashton Eaton, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and world record holder. “And when an athlete at Tokyo wins a medal, the weight of it will not be from the gold, silver or bronze; it will be the weight of a nation.

“The awesomeness of this project makes me want to come out of retirement and compete for one.”

Previous Olympic Games have used recycled metal to manufacture medals, but Tokyo 2020 will be the first to mine material from discarded electronic devices. Organizers claim that all gold medals will be made 100 percent from recycled materials.

The organizing committee brushed off comparisons with Japan’s wartime metal collection as it announced the campaign following an executive board meeting.

“We are asking people to recycle voluntarily,” said Hidemasa Nakamura, the chief financial officer of the 2020 Games. “The concept is recycling and sustainability, which is in line with the ideals of the Olympic Movement. It is also about participation.”

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