National | CHUBU CONNECTION

Aichi firm mining used gadgets to make Tokyo Olympic medals

Chunichi Shimbun

Renet Japan Group Inc., a major dealer in second-hand goods based in Obu, Aichi Prefecture, is stepping up efforts to collect and recycle mobile phones and computers so it can forge Olympic medals out of recycled goods.

Similar moves in the private and public sectors are spreading nationwide.

“Old electric appliances are considered a nuisance in households, but they are actually a treasure trove,” said Renet Japan President Takeshi Kuroda, 50, as he perused piles of dusty PCs, printers and cellphones packed in cardboard boxes.

“I want people to know that useless cellphones and PCs can be turned into medals for the Tokyo Olympics,” he said.

Electronic devices are full of parts that contain gold, silver and rare metals, and the waste dumps created by discarded devices are often dubbed “urban mines.”

According to Komei Harada, a special researcher from the National Institute of Materials Science, the urban mines of Japan contain 6,800 tons of gold, equivalent to 16 percent of the world’s total underground reserves, as well as 60,000 tons of silver equivalent to 22 percent of the world’s reserves. Cellphones are said to have a gold content ratio that’s nearly 100 times higher than a gold mine, which means the recovery efficiency is high.

In 2013, the Home Appliance Recycling Law was enacted to promote recycling in Japan.

Under the government’s goal of recycling 1 kg per capita of electric appliances annually, some 50 companies nationwide including Renet became authorized recyclers.

In addition to the Obu Municipal Government, Renet has teamed up with around 90 governments nationwide, including the cities of Ichinomiya and Toyota in Aichi, to collect used appliances.

If one applies via the company’s website, a delivery company will come the following day to collect the appliances if they are packed in cardboard boxes. Residents of cities that collaborate with Renet do not need to pay the recycling fee if those appliances include a PC.

Renet extracts and collects the precious metal from the parts and sells it to metal refining companies.

The idea of creating Olympic medals from scrapped appliances has been gaining momentum since last year, with municipalities and companies leading the movement.

Three cities in the Tohoku region, including Hachinohe in Aomori Prefecture, have been particularly active about promoting recycling and proposed the idea in June 2015 to the central government and the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee.

In July this year, the committee added the idea to its list of issues to be considered for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

In the 2012 London Olympics, 9.6 kg of gold, 1,210 kg of silver and 700 kg of bronze were used to produce the medals.

In 2014, Japan collected 143 kg of gold, 1,566 kg of silver and 1,112 tons of bronze from small electronic appliances. This means there is already enough to make the medals for the Tokyo Olympics if it all can be set aside for that specific purpose.

The medals presented in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics were also made partly from recycled precious metals.

In the meantime, recyclers have set their eyes on the estimated 200 million used cellphones sitting idle in Japanese households along with about 30 million computers.

Each cellphone contains an average of 0.03 grams of gold, which means 320,000 phones will be enough to produce all of the gold medals needed for the Tokyo Olympics.

During a past recycling campaign in Obu, Renet managed to collect 18,000 kg of small gadgets in three months.

Kuroda is eager to lead the initiative, as Obu is also home to Shigakkan University, which produced many of the Olympic medal winners in women’s freestyle wrestling.

For inquiries on disposing of used electrical appliances, call Renet at 0570-085-800.

This section, appearing Tuesdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published on Aug. 27.