TOKYO >> Amid efforts to use only recycled metal in the medals for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, there is growing concern over a shortage of silver.
Collection began a year ago and nearly twice as much silver is still needed. If the situation remains unchanged, organizers will likely face a shortage.
Metal collection is scheduled to end in one year, and the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games will accelerate its efforts by installing new collection points at universities and post offices across the country.
Recycled metals were used to produce medals for the 2012 London Games and the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, while for the 2020 Tokyo Games, a plan is under way to use only metals recovered from small electronic devices such as old smartphones. It is the first such attempt in Olympic history.
Small electronic devices are also called “urban mines.” For example, a laptop computer contains about 0.3 grams of gold, about 0.84 grams of silver and about 81.6 grams of bronze. Japan is one of the world’s leading countries in terms of recycling precious metals in electronic devices.
According to the organizing committee, at least 5,000 medals are required.
Silver and bronze medals are made almost entirely from silver and bronze. But under International Olympic Committee rules, a gold medal should be made by using silver as a base material with at least six grams of pure gold plated onto it.
About 22 pounds of gold and about 1,623 pounds of bronze are needed for the Tokyo Games. About 2,712 pounds of silver, nearly double the amount of bronze, is needed.
Since April 2017, the organizing committee, the Environment Ministry, the Tokyo metropolitan government and others have been collecting electronic devices, such as old smartphones and personal computers.
Collection boxes for smartphones and small electronic devices are installed at outlets of NTT Docomo, which is participating in the project, across the nation. There are also boxes in municipal government buildings, mainly in Tokyo.
It is estimated that a total of 3.2 million smartphones have been collected over the past year, surpassing the annual average of 3 million.
The number of collection points will be increased from 624 to 3,000 locations across the nation, in an attempt to collect more materials.
“Just like the recycling of plastic bottles and empty cans, we aim to achieve a society where the separate collection of electronic devices is natural,” an official of the organizing committee said.