At next summer’s Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo, all medals will be made from old smartphones, laptops, and other recycled gadgets.
When The Medal Project launched in April 2017, Olympic organizers called on Japanese municipalities to send in their defunct devices. They aimed to harvest 67 pounds of gold, 9,039 pounds of silver, and 5,592 pounds of bronze from these miniature troves of precious metals. (Approximately 25 milligrams of gold can be found in a single smartphone, roughly worth about $1.)
Donations of old electronics came pouring in; approximately 90% of Japanese municipalities participated in the drive. By November of last year, organizers had collected 47,488 tons of electronic waste, including approximately 5 million used mobile phones. They’re on track to meet their collection goal by March.
“It is estimated that the remaining amounts of metal required to manufacture all Olympic and Paralympic medals can be extracted from the devices already donated,” the organizers said in a statement. After a smelting process that extracts the metals from ore, they’ll mold 2,500 Olympic medals in a design that will be released later this year.
The Medal Project is a tiny part of a broader effort to solve the global e-waste problem. Humans produce an estimated 44.7 million metric tonnes of e-waste every year, and experts predict that number will increase a further 17 percent to 52.2 million metric tonnes by 2021. The value of the gold, silver, copper, platinum, palladium and other precious recoverable materials contained in all this e-waste is estimated at $55 billion — more than the gross domestic product of most countries in the world.