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Remains of discarded mobile phones lie at an electronic waste recycling company in Dabaspet 48 Kilometers (30 miles) from Bangalore, India, Friday, April 22, 2016. (AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi)

The 2020 Olympic medals will be made from trashed smartphones


UPDATE Feb. 1 11:35 a.m.:

Organizers of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo have asked for donations of unwanted phones and electronics to make 5,000 medals. They're looking for eight tons of material, CNN reports.

30 percent of the silver and bronze medals in the 2016 Rio games were made from recycled materials. 

ORIGINAL STORY: Your phone could be good for something after you throw it out. At least, if you live in Japan.

The  Nikkei Asian Review¬† reports Olympic organizers in Tokyo are trying to harvest gold, silver and bronze from thrown-out small electronics, to be used for the 2020 medals for the victors.

If the plan gets the go-ahead, there will be more than enough metal to go around -- Japan has so many discarded phones and other small gadgets, the dumps are called "urban mines."

But there's no way there's enough gold in the trash, right?

Actually, for the London Olympics, it took about 21 pounds of gold, 2,668 pounds of silver and 1,543 pounds of bronze to make the medals.

That's a lot. But In 2014 alone, Japan harvested 315 pounds of gold, 3,452 pounds of silver and 2,474 pounds of bronze from electronics. And if Japan started today, it would have four years to mine.

So the country has the metals it needs, and then some.

United States' Katie Ledecky shows off her gold medal in the women's 800-meter freestyle medals ceremony during the swimming competitions at the 2016 Summer Olympics, Friday, Aug. 12, 2016, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

Wait, why is there so little gold?

The gold medals are actually about 99 percent silver, according to Forbes. Sorry, Katie Ledecky

We need a system that makes it easy for consumers to turn in used consumer electronics.
Takeshi Kuroda, ReNet Japan Group

So why isn't this a sure thing?

Japan doesn't exactly have a system for collecting all the phones and gadgets people throw out. And a lot of what is collected goes toward making even more electronics for people to eventually discard.

Are there other dumps with people's phones?

Yep. The United Nations called electronic waste "one of the fastest growing waste streams" in developing and developed countries. And as phones and computers grow more replaceable, the stream will keep getting bigger.

Japan has an e-recycling program, according to Nikkei, but it's fallen pretty far short of its goal of 1 kilogram (about 2.2 pounds) per person.

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