Medals for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics are proposed to be made of metals from electronic products which includes smartphones and other electronic products according to the organising committee. It is potentially viable as Japan has been described as an “urban mine” where the city is a mine where raw materials could be extracted from electronic products. However, there are no implemented systems when it comes to recycling consumer electronics in Japan.
Because of technological advancements, electronic waste is one of the world’s fastest growing waste stream. Man’s relationship with the product ceases the moment they dispose of it and they do not have to understand how the products are treated. Also, people are more likely to throw their spoilt electronics away instead of sending it for repair because of the ease of obtaining electronic products. Thus, Japan’s proposal to extract metals from e-waste is meaningful as it tackles one of the more crucial problems when it comes to maintaining the sustainability of the Earth.
The recycling and reusing of materials is already widespread in Japan as the environmentally-conscious Japanese have internalised the habit of recycling products like plastic and paper. Extending their recycling regime to include electronic wastes creates the image that the Japanese are indeed striving to ameliorate the damage done to the environment. While household appliances carry little precious metals, they are quite significant in terms of their weight and worth.
However, while it appears to be a ‘green’ idea that could potentially benefit the environment, we must not forget this is what Japan desires to present itself to the world – a green nation. It is even more salient when the event at focus is the Olympics; this results in reports, articles and definitely, free publicity and promotion of Japan as green nation. Thus, I argue that the Olympics is used as a platform to show the world how far it has come in terms of recycling and further solidify its position as a green nation just like how it did more than half a century ago when Japan showed the world its recovery from the second world war (Brasor and Tsubuku, 2014).
Moreover, this idea of recycling metal from electronic products is heavily dependent on the private sector’s contribution towards the effort. But their interest might be more of profits rather than doing good for the environment as the extraction of metals from the electronic products are actually profitable (Japantimes, 2013). Thus companies are spurred by the motivations of profit rather than actually conserving the environment when the recycling of precious metals could also be used as secondary raw materials for the factories as well (Wire, n.d.).
Therefore, while the recycling of electronic waste appears to be an effort to show their love for nature on the global arena, this affection for nature is backed by political and economic considerations rather than real love for the nature.
Brasor, Philip and Masako Tsubuku. 2014. “How the Shinkansen Bullet Train Made Tokyo into the Monster It Is Today.” The Guardian. Retrieved September 26, 2016 (https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2014/sep/30/-sp-shinkansen-bullet-train-tokyo-rail-japan-50-years).
Japan Times. 2013. “Recycling of Useful Metals | The Japan Times.” Japan Times RSS. Retrieved September 26, 2016 (http://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2013/04/27/editorials/recycling-of-useful-metals/#.v-jvq_b97iv).
Sakakibara, Ken. 2016. “Tokyo Olympic Medals to Be Made from e-Waste- Nikkei Asian Review.” Nikkei Asian Review. Retrieved September 26, 2016 (http://asia.nikkei.com/japan-update/tokyo-olympic-medals-to-be-made-from-e-waste?page=1).
Wire. n.d. “Urban Mining: the City as a Source of Raw Materials.” Wire.de. Retrieved September 26, 2016 (http://www.wire.de/cipp/md_wiretube/custom/pub/content,oid,10345/lang,2/ticket,g_u_e_s_t/~/urban_mining_the_city_as_a_source_of_raw_materials.html).