Administrators have announced that Japan is planning to improve recycling processes. They will be attempting to craft the 2020 Olympic medals out of recycled materials. Rather than mine for the precious metals that make up the gold, silver, and bronze medals, they will instead look to their immense electronic waste stores.
Approximately 21 pounds of gold, 2,670 pounds of silver and 1,540 pounds of copper were needed for the London Olympics in 2012. Brazil also used some recycled materials in their medals, mostly for the silver medals and ribbons. Japan has a strong technology driven culture which should make it fairly simple to meet their goal and have plenty of cell phones and electronics to process.
Japan still does not have an established program for the public to direct electronic waste. They are currently recycling less than 25% of their outdated tech. With 4 years to plan the process of refining the raw materials for the medals, they should be able to make great advances in other aspects of their recycling initiatives.
A cell phone is made of various materials, including plastics, base metals, precious metals, and other miscellaneous components. See a more detailed breakdown below.
Polycarbonate plastic plays a large part in the production of modern cell phone bodies. This material has superior flexibility and impact resistance. It also has the upside of being very cheap to manufacture in addition to having no antenna interference. ABS and hybrid Poly ABS variations are commonly found as well.
The use of base metals for phone chassis has become more common as consumers expect higher quality materials as cell phone prices rise. Aluminum is the most common in current applications, offering higher structural rigidity and a more refined finish. One of the downsides of using aluminum is the negative effect it has on antenna reception, resulting in most aluminum bodied phones coming with an external antenna.
Consumer cell phones contain trace amounts of various precious metals. These include Silver, Nickel, Palladium, Platinum, Copper, and Gold, among others. Circuit board component manufacturing and electroplating has vastly improved. The result is thinner precious metal surface coverage. We should strive to mitigate the impact of mining these materials by responsibly recycling our consumer goods.
Glass and PMMA screens, Lithium-Ion batteries, and plastic/fiber circuit boards are all common as well. Screws and hardware can be steel or variations of a magnesium alloy. Each phone model will have differences in the use of each material.