53 million tons. That's the amount of electronic waste (e-waste) produced globally every year. Recently, a company in England commissioned 'Mount Recyclmore' sculpted entirely out of e-waste to draw the attention of country heads attending the G7 meet. The host country of this year's Olympics, Japan, decided not only to use the platform to highlight the issue but also do something about it. To make this year's Olympic medals, they used tonnes of e-waste.
Called 'Tokyo 2020 Medal Project', the initiative began as early as 2017. Over a period of two years, the organizing committee of the Olympics in Japan conducted a drive to collect electronic waste such as phones from across the country. It roped in athletes, students at universities, and even reached out to the public at large to donate small and no longer in use electronic devices. Private companies also participated in the drive and set up collection centers to allow all those interested to make deposits conveniently.
The collection drive was formally closed in March of 2019. Deposits were received from 1621 municipalities constituting 90 percent of villages, wards, towns, and cities in Japan. A total of 78,985 tons of e-waste was collected comprising of 6.21 million used phones. The e-waste was then classified and dismantled by government-approved contractors, in accordance with local laws on recycling electrical and electronic equipment.
Metallic elements were melted and then refined. At the end of the process, 70 lbs (32 kg) of gold, 7716 lbs (3500 kg) of silver, and 4850 lbs (2250 kg) of bronze were recovered from the collected waste which would be used to make 2500 medals for the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Apart from medals, Japan also recycled tonnes of plastic waste to build podiums for the Olympics ceremonies. From subtle ancient wood joinery to recycling e-waste, Japan continues to be a hotbed of innovations.