Under the theme “Be better, together – for the planet and the people”, the Olympic Games in Tokyo are expected to be the most sustainable and environmentally friendly Games ever.
We keep buying smarter phones or better laptops, but what happens to our discarded devices? Well, when the best athletes in the world competed in Tokyo, they would essentially be fighting for a recycled cell phone or laptop. The organizing committee led the Tokyo 2020 Medal Project to collect small electronic devices from all over Japan to produce the Olympic and Paralympic medals. Under the theme “Be better, together – for the planet and the people”, the Olympic Games in Tokyo are expected to be the most sustainable and environmentally friendly Games of all time. About 32 kilograms of gold, 3,500 kg of silver and 2,200 kg of bronze, the metals needed to make some 5,000 gold, silver and bronze medals, were extracted from 78,985 tons of ‘used devices collected between April 2017 and March 2019 from neighborhoods, towns, villages and 6.21 million used cell phones collected by NTT DoCoMo stores across Japan, all provided by people.
The sustainability efforts, which will be part of the legacy of the pandemic-stricken Tokyo Games, do not end there. The Olympic Torch Relay uniforms were partially made from recycled plastic bottles, and the victory ceremony podiums are made from recycled household and marine plastic waste – approximately 45 tonnes of household plastic was used to create the 100 podiums.
But how serious is the problem of electronic waste. Waste from equipment such as consumer electronics, computers, laptops, tablets, cell phones, household appliances and industrial grade electronics are hazardous due to the presence of chemicals and metals deadly; long-term exposure to these substances causes serious health risks. How big is the threat? According to a report from the associated chambers of commerce and industry of India, 44.7 million metric tons of electronic waste was generated globally in 2016; the amount is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 3.15%. The United Nations University compared the weight of e-waste in 2016 to “nine great pyramids of Giza” or “4,500 Eiffel towers”. It is estimated that by 2021, global e-waste will have reached 52.2 MMT. The increased digital dependence due to the pandemic would lead to more electronic waste.
India, China, the United States of America, Japan and Germany are the top five e-waste producing countries. India’s e-waste is estimated to increase to 5.2 MMT by 2020, from 2 MMT in 2016, mainly due to economic growth and changing consumption patterns. Computer equipment accounts for nearly 70% of this electronic waste, followed by telephones (12%), electrical equipment (8%), medical equipment (7%) and household items. China, Peru, Ghana, Nigeria, India and Pakistan are also the main recipients of electronic waste from industrialized countries.
However, a meager 1.5% of the total e-waste generated in India is recycled through an institutional process, and most e-waste is routed to the unorganized sector where rudimentary and inexpensive methods are used to recover waste materials. value. The remaining parts are dumped in rivers and sewers, or disposed of in solid waste landfills. The combustion of electronic waste generates toxic fumes, while its disposal in water bodies degrades the quality of the soil and water.
The development and implementation of inexpensive and environmentally friendly recycling and disposal infrastructure is essential. In 2017, scientists at IIT Madras developed a new technique in which e-waste can be used as a resource not only to treat wastewater, but also to generate electricity simultaneously. The world’s first micro-factory for converting electronic waste into reusable materials has been opened in Australia. South Korea has successfully recycled 21% of its 0.8 MMT of electronic waste. Effective collaboration with industry is necessary. More and more innovative ideas are needed. But for now, Japan gets a gold medal for sustainability.